A peculiarity of labour disputes in Russia is that they seldom start with great financial demands from employees. They are more about the status of the organisation, its reputation and similar issues. However, practice shows that given the length and formality of litigation, financial claims, originally insignificant, can turn into fairly large claims, over time. Another very sensitive particular feature of Russian labour litigation is that one of the fundamental demands in dismissal cases is reinstatement at work.
1. Who can file a claim?
Labour disputes in Russia can involve not just employers and employees, but also state bodies, job seekers, independent contractors, as well as, sometimes, even unexpected third parties. A person working under a civil contract can also file a claim for the recognition of the relationship as employment.
2. What can employees claim?
Employees may require different types of compensation (compensation for moral damage, compensation for forced unemployment, compensation for different benefits and bonuses, etc.). However, the most tangible request is reinstatement in work. A separate group of claims in labour disputes consists of claims aimed at challenging the legality of disciplinary procedures and the recognition of de facto employment.
3. What can employers claim?
In practice, employers’ claims are less frequent. Disputes initiated by employers can be grouped as follows:
- disputes related to compensation for damage caused by employees;
- disputes challenging orders and fines imposed by the State Labour Inspectorate.
4. Where to file?
As far as admissibility and territorial jurisdiction are concerned, in Russia, labour disputes are considered by the courts of general jurisdiction. The first level court is district courts.
According to Russian law, from a territorial jurisdiction perspective, proceedings can be instituted at the place of work, the place the contract was concluded, the employer’s location or the employee’s place of residence. In other words, there are alternative jurisdictions for labour disputes in Russia. This means that sometimes a claim can be issued somewhere far way if the dispute involves a remote employee who resides in a distant region of Russia.
5. Limitation period
The general limitation period for an employee to bring a lawsuit in court is three months from the date that the employee learned, or should have learned, that his or her rights had been violated.
There is a special limitation period in some types of labour disputes:
- dismissal claims: one month from the time the employee received the copy of the dismissal order;
- non-payment, or incomplete payment, of salaries and other amounts: one year from the established payment date;
- damage caused by an employee: one year from the date the damage was revealed.
The court may extend the periods described above if there were justifiable reasons to fail to meet the deadline. The limitation period will not be enforced by the court if the other party does not claim that it has expired.
Following recent amendments to the Russian Labour Code, an employee may claim compensation for moral damages, in parallel with a claim for the restoration of his or her breached rights, or within three months from the date the court decision entered into legal force.
6. Pre-trial settlement
It is not obligatory to make a pre-trial settlement attempt for labour disputes in Russia.
However, prior to litigation in court, an employee is entitled to apply to the State Labour Inspectorate, or to the Prosecutor’s Office for protection. This is not an obligatory step, but in practice, making such an application may extend the limitation period. Regardless of the State Labour Inspectorate or Prosecutor’s ruling, the employee may bring the same claim to court.
Some labour disputes may be resolved through employment dispute commissions. The decision of an employment dispute commission may be challenged in court, by both employee and employer. However, it is not common practice in Russia to resolve disputes through employment dispute commissions.
The specifics of court hearings depend on the type of case. On average, labour litigation can last from three to 12 months at the first court level.
Generally, a first instance decision can be challenged in an appeal court within one month after the final decision was rendered. If the decision was not challenged during this time, it comes into force. Decisions on reinstatement at work are executed immediately. After the decision comes into force, there is the possibility of challenging it in a court of supervision.
At any stage of the litigation process (including during the execution of court decisions), the parties may conclude a settlement agreement. This is subject to the judge’s approval and binding for both parties. The settlement agreement contains mutually-agreed terms for dispute resolution and terminates the litigation.
8. Special participants
Russian law guarantees the prosecutor’s participation in reinstatement cases. The prosecutor participates in court hearings and gives an opinion on the legality of the termination of the employment contract.
The prosecutor’s participation does not guarantee a decision in favour of the employee. The prosecutor’s opinion is not binding on the court. Moreover, the prosecutor can adhere to the position of either the employee or the employer. However, support from the prosecutor for an employee may impose additional pressure on the employer.
9. Can an employee apply to the European Court of Human Rights?
An employee can only apply to the European Court of Human Rights if all options for legal protection within his or her home country have been exhausted. This means the employee must file a claim at the national level and go through all the court levels provided by Russian law. Only after that is it possible to apply to the European Court.
A complaint to the European Court of Human Rights must concern violations of rights that are guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights. However, the Convention specifies a smaller number of rights than national legislation, and the claim will be addressed to the Russian Federation and not to the specific employer.