The author of this post is Uglješa Grušić, Associate Professor, Faculty of Laws, University College London.
As has already been reported on this blog, on 29 March 2023 the European Commission published a study to support the preparation of a report on the application of the Brussels I bis Regulation. This is an important and potentially very influential document.
It is because of its importance and potential influence that I want to share my disappointment with the part of the study that deals with jurisdiction in employment matters (pp 165-171). This part of the study contains some obvious mistakes and omissions.
Let me turn first to the mistakes. The study says this about the comparison between the 2012 Brussels I bis Regulation and the 2001 Brussels I Regulation on p 165:
[Section 5 of Chapter II] remains substantially the same in the Brussels Ia Regulation, with a small change in Article 20(1) (previously Article 18(1)), to which was added ‘(…) in the case of proceedings brought against an employer, point 1 of Article 8’. This insertion clarifies rather than changes the Article’s scope of application.
The study makes the same point on p 166:
The Regulation remains unchanged regarding the provisions addressing jurisdiction relating to individual employment contracts, except for an alteration inserted in Article 20(1).
These statements are not entirely correct. In addition to specifying that employees can join third parties pursuant to Article 8(1), the Brussels I bis Regulation introduces one further novelty in Section 5 of Chapter II. This novelty is the rule in Article 21(2), which provides that an employer not domiciled in a Member State may be sued in a court of a Member State in accordance with Article 21(1)(b), that is, in the courts for the habitual place of work if the habitual place of work is in the EU or, in the absence of the habitual place of work, in the courts for the engaging place of business if the engaging place of business is in the EU.
Another, seemingly innocuous mistake is the wrong citation of an academic commentary on which the authors of this part of the study heavily rely, namely Louse Merrett’s chapter on ‘Jurisdiction over Individual Contracts of Employment’ in Dickinson and Lein’s edited collection on the Brussels I bis Regulation. The mistake in the citation is that Merrett’s chapter was not published in 2020, as the study says, but in 2015. The relevance of this mistake lies in the fact that the authors of this part of the study rely on Merrett’s chapter as supporting the claims made on p 166 that the “concerned parties are satisfied with the solutions adopted and its application in practice through court judgments” and that “[t]here is little case-law related to jurisdiction on individual employment contracts, suggesting that this section has not been subject to much litigation”. Misciting Merrett’s chapter creates a wrong sense of complacency: if a leading scholar writes in a piece published relatively recently that Section 5 of Chapter II works well and there is little case-law, then the implication is that the European Commission need not worry too much about this part of the Brussels I bis Regulation. The problem, however, is that Merrett’s chapter was published in 2015, the same year when this regulation started to apply, and a lot has happened since then.
This brings me to the omissions. The study was completed in January 2023 and was published on 29 March 2023. The study was largely informed by the case law of the CJEU. The problem with the part of the study that deals with jurisdiction in employment matters is that it was outdated the moment it was completed because the authors did not take into account the controversial judgment in ROI Land Investments Ltd v FD that was handed down on 20 October 2022.
While persons domiciled outside the EU can, generally speaking, be sued in the Member State courts under national jurisdictional rules (Article 6(1)), employers domiciled outside the EU can only be sued in the courts for the habitual place of work or, absent a habitual place of work, in the courts for the engaging place of business if the habitual place of work/engaging place of business is located in the EU. The CJEU has clarified in ROI Land Investments Ltd v FDthat, if the habitual place of work/engaging place of business is located in the EU, employers domiciled outside the EU cannot be sued in the Member State courts under national jurisdictional rules. This makes little sense from the perspective of employee protection. As Recital 18 states, ‘[i]n relation to…employment contracts, the weaker party should be protected by rules of jurisdiction more favourable to his interests than the general rules.” ROI Land Investments Ltd v FD achieves the opposite effect.
The purpose of this post is to indicate that there are deficiencies in the part of the study that deals with jurisdiction in employment matters. Consequently, the European Commission should approach this part of the study with care and look at other sources when preparing its report on the application of Section 5 of Chapter II.
For what it’s worth, I have already shared on this blog my proposals for reform of this part of the regulation.