ROI Land Investments. The CJEU on letters of comfort and their leading to a qualification as employment cq consumer contract for jurisdictional purposes, and on more generous national rules for the protected categories.

In an interesting judgment, the CJEU yesterday held (no English edition yet) in C-604/20 ROI Land Investments Ltd v FD on protected categories suing a defendant not formally associated with the claimant by a clear contract of employment. That the defendant is not domiciled in the EU is in fact of less relevance to the issues.  I had somehow missed Richard de la Tour AG’s Opinion on same (it happens to the best of us).

Claimant in the main proceedings is FD, domiciled in Germany. Defendant is not his current employer and is not domiciled in a Member State. Yet by virtue of a letter of comfort it is directly liable to the employee for claims arising from an individual contract of employment with a third party. The gist of the case is whether an employee can sue this legal person under the employment title if the contract of employment with the third party would not have come into being in the absence of the letter of comfort.

The slightly complex three part construction, transferring relationships of employment, essentially is one of tax optimisation via Switserland. FD used to be employed by ROI Investment, a Canadian corporation, before his contract was transferred to R Swiss, a Swiss SPV created for the very purpose of the operation. ROI Investment via a letter of comfort effectively guaranteed the outstanding wages due to FD. FD’s contract with Swiss was ended, a German court held this to have been done illegally and ordered Swiss to pay a substantial sum whereupon Swiss went into insolvency. FD now wishes to sue the Canadian ’employer’.

CJEU Bosworth is the most recent case which extensively discusses the existence of ’employment’, referring to CJEU Shenavai and Holterman. In ROI Land the CJEU [34] instructs the national court in particular to assess whether there is a relationship of subordination between individual and corporation, even if subordination is actually only one of the Shenavai /Holterman criteria.

Erik Sinander has already noted here (his post came in as I was writing up mine) that this is a different emphasis from the AG: he had suggested a third party who was directly benefitting from the work performed by the employee (“un intérêt direct à la bonne exécution dudit contrat”) should be considered an employer. That to my mind is way too large a criterion and the CJEU is right to stick to the earlier ones.

[35] the CJEU suggests relevant circumstances in the case most probably confirming the relationship of subordination hence of employment: the activities which FD carried out for his two respective employers stayed the same, and the construction via the  SPV would not have been entered into by FD had it not been for his original employer’s guarantee.

The forum laboris in the case at issue is then I assume (it is not discussed quite so clearly in the judgment) determined by the place of habitual performance of the activities for the third party, the formal (now insolvent) employer, not the activities carried out for the issuer of the letter of comfort: for there are (no longer) such activities.

[37] ff the Court entirely correctly holds that more protective national rules cannot trump Brussels Ia’s jurisdictional provisions for the  protected categories: both clear statutory language and statutory purpose support that  conclusion.

[52] ff the CJEU entertains the subsidiary issue raised in the national proceedings as to whether the contract may be considered a consumer contract. It holds that the concept of ‘a purpose outside (a natural person’s) trade or profession’ does not just apply to a natural person in a self-employed capacity but may also apply to an employee. [56] seeing as FD would not have signed the new employment agreement without the letter of comfort, the employment agreement cannot be considered to be outside FD’s profession. Therefore it cannot qualify as a consumer contract.

Geert.

 

 

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