international employment law firm alliance L&E Global

Sweden: Unlawful industrial actions taken by sanitation workers give cause to liability for damages exceeding what is considered customary damages

When a sanitation company had to do an inventory of keys to garbage collection facilities, the employees of the company refused to participate and eventually refused to work or called in sick. The employer organisation brought an action against the employees in the Labour Court claiming that the employees’ refusal to work and calling in sick should be deemed unlawful industrial actions and a violation of the peace obligation. The employees claimed that the employer had prevented them from performing their duties and that no industrial actions had been taken.

The Labour Court found that the employees’ refusal to work was a measure taken in order to prevent the inventory of keys, since the employees did not want to share their know-how concerning the management of the keys. The Labour Court deemed that a refusal to work based on such grounds was to be deemed as industrial actions and that the industrial actions were unlawful since the actions had not been formally decided by the employees’ trade union. Furthermore, the Labour Court found that employees who did not come to work under the pretence of sickness had participated in the unlawful industrial actions and that the employer had a right to demand a doctor’s certificate from these employees from the first day of sickness.

The Labour Court concluded that the employees who had taken unlawful industrial actions were liable to pay damages to the employer amounting to between SEK 2,500 and 3,500 per employee. The Labour Court found that the damages should exceed what is considered customary damages since sanitary services are an essential part of the service in a community. The fact that the employees refused to work during an extended period was also taken into consideration when deciding the amount of damages.