Russian Federation: Supreme Court Recognizes Birthdays and Bad Weather as Legitimate Reasons for Not Working

(Feb. 17, 2021) The Supreme Court of the Russian Federation recently reviewed several labor law cases previously resolved by lower courts and concluded that any evidence admitted under the Civil Procedural Code can be used by employees to prove the validity of their absence from work.

In one case, a fellow at a research institute was fired for being absent from work for one day without a prior approved leave request. The plaintiff claimed that she had intended to go to work but was stranded by heavy snowfall at her country house, where she had visited her elderly parents and for whom she is a caregiver. She explained that the train station is more than six miles away, and the settlement’s only road out was not passable because local municipal services did not clean the road until late in the evening. A statement from the municipality confirming the time of the road cleaning was produced as a document proving the truthfulness of her claim.

The first instance and appellate courts did not agree with the plaintiff’s contention that the documents she provided served as evidence that she couldn’t come to work using other means of transportation except her personal car. In the opinion of the Supreme Court, this was an erroneous decision because nothing prevented the courts from considering the submitted documents as valid evidence. In the opinion of the Supreme Court, there is no norm of the law that would provide an exhaustive list of documents that could be accepted as evidence. Moreover, the Supreme Court said that even though an employee’s absence from work can be a reason for terminating his or her employment, bad weather and failed attempts of municipal services to clean roads should be taken into account when resolving labor disputes. Along with this, an employer should assess the severity of the employee’s act, the circumstances under which it was committed, and the employee’s previous behavior when deciding about disciplining the employee.

In reviewing another firing decision, the Supreme Court held that an employer was wrong to terminate an employee for claiming that she was justified in leaving the office more than four hours before the end of her workday because that was an accepted office practice for all employees on their birthdays. Considering that the employee’s supervisor knew that the employee was leaving the office early and that her early leave was recorded on the sign-in sheet and by the office surveillance camera, the court rejected as unreasonable the employer’s position that such type of leave is not foreseen by labor regulations and internal company norms. The court said that it is the duty of the employer to verify reasons for a violation and treat all employees equally. In the opinion of the court, the mere fact of violating a particular labor code provision cannot be used as a reason for firing a person, and all decisions in labor disputes should be based on such major principles of dispute resolution as fairness, equality, proportionality, and legality.

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