50th anniversary of the Polish Labour Code

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Polish Labour Code. Over the years, it has undergone numerous changes and adaptations in response to historical events. Below, we present the evolution of the Polish Labour Code and discuss its upcoming changes.

How it started

The Labour Code was established on June 26, 1974, in a completely different Poland than the one we know today. Back then, Poland was ruled by the Polish United Workers’ Party and the society was dominated by socialist ideology, which also influenced the legislative process. The original Labour Code contained references to terminology such as “the working people” and “socialist labour law”.

However, the Labour Code was the first comprehensive codification of Polish labour law. It was a milestone in the evolution of labour law as an independent branch and represented the first step toward future changes.

Political transformation

The year 1989 was a turning point in Polish history. A time of fundamental social and economic changes arrived. The previous regime collapsed, and the first free elections were held. The free-market economy replaced the previously centrally planned system. Private entrepreneurs took the major part of economic landscape instead of public enterprises.

These changes also impacted the Labour Code. On February 2, 1996, the Polish legislature introduced a major amendment to the Labour Code to adapt it to capitalism and the new reality. The new legislation reflected greater freedom in the labour market and allowed employment relationships to be formed more liberally by employers and employees, introducing, among other changes, the following:

1)       new principles of labor law, including the right to fair remuneration, the principle of equal treatment and the right to choose work freely,

2)       the employer’s obligation to indicate the place of work into the employment contract as well as the reason for termination of such contract in the termination notice,

3)       non-compete regulations,

4)       the employee’s obligation of confidentiality,

5)       extension of the catalogue of offenses against employee’s rights,

6)       the employer’s obligation to keep documentation related to the employment relationship, including records of working hours.

European integration

The next historic event for Poland and its Labour Code was joining the European Union on May 1, 2004. Poland became part of the European community and a participant in its common market. This resulted in a significant social and economic transformation of the country.

At the same time, Poland faced the challenge of adjusting its legal system to European law. Even before Poland’s accession to the EU, the legislature began amending the Labour Code in 2001 to adapt it to the European regulations. The amendment of August 24, 2001, introduced:

1)       regulations on the equal treatment of women and men in employment,

2)       the right to compensation for violations of equal treatment of men and women,

3)       regulations on employees sent to work abroad in EU countries,

4)       additional guarantees for juvenile employees.

Directives prompt legislative changes

The most significant amendment to the Labour Code was made in 2003. Many milestone changes were implemented to comply with the EU law. The scope of the changes was broad and included, inter alia, the following: 

1)       mobbing regulation,

2)       broader non-discrimination regulations, including recognizing harassment and sexual harassment as a form of discrimination,

3)       guarantee of minimum uninterrupted daily and weekly rest,

4)       regulations on night workers,

5)       extension of working time settlement periods,

6)       introducing breaks at work, not included in working time, for employees to eat or deal with personal matters,

7)       setting rates of remuneration for overtime work.

The changes made were intended to implement several European directives, including:

1)       Directive 76/207 of 9 February 1976 on the implementation of the principle of equal treatment for men and women as regards access to employment, vocational training, promotion, and working conditions,

2)       Directive 89/391/EEC of 12 June 1989 on the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health of workers at work,

3)       Directive 91/533/EEC of 14 October 1991 on an employer’s obligation to inform employees of the conditions applicable to the contract or employment relationship,

4)       Directive 1999/70/EC of 28 June 1999 concerning the framework agreement on fixed-term work concluded by ETUC, UNICE, and CEEP,

5)       Directive 2000/43 of 29 June 2000 implementing the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of racial or ethnic origin.

GDPR revolution

In 2019, the European GDPR regulation revolutionized Polish data protection law and amended regulations in the Labour Code concerning personal data shared by employees. The amendment of February 21, 2019, included the following changes:

1)       a narrower catalogue of personal data that the employer can demand,

2)       requirement of employee’s consent to process additional personal data,

3)       general restriction on the processing of sensitive data, e.g., political beliefs, health condition,

4)       more restrictive requirements for usage of monitoring systems, e.g., prohibition of monitoring in trade union facilities.

2023 – the year of changes

2023 was another year of numerous changes in Polish labor law. After years of employers requests, they were granted the ability to monitor the sobriety of their employees under certain conditions, i.e.:

1)       control is necessary to protect life and health,

2)       issuance of sobriety check regulations,

3)       respect for the dignity of employees during the inspection,

4)       technical requirements for the breathalyser.

Other significant changes were related to replacing telework with remote work and implementing two more EU directives: directive of 20 June 2019 on work-life balance for parents and carers and directive of 20 June 2019 on transparent and predictable working conditions in the European Union. New provisions concerning remote work entered into force on April 7, 2023 (while the rules for telework were removed from the Labour Code six months later). Shortly after, on April 26, 2023 regulations resulting from the EU directive also came into force.

You can find more information about the changes from 2023 here.

What the future brings

In the next few years, European directives will bring further changes to the Polish Labour Code. Planned implementations include the following directives:

1)       Pay Transparency Directive – new rules aimed at increasing salary transparency and reducing the gender pay gap are expected;

2)       Platform Work Directive – the objective is to ensure proper classification of the legal status of individuals performing platform work;

3)       Adequate Minimum Wages Directive – regulations designed to ensure adequate minimum salaries and promote collective bargaining on wages.

Over the years, the Polish Labour Code has undergone numerous changes, evolving from socialist law to modern European legislation. Many amendments have been made due to the implementation of EU law, leading to positive adjustments. Certainly, more changes await us in the future.

This article was prepared by att. Monika Aniszewska and att. trainee Barłomiej Ostrowski from our Polish member firm Zawirska Ruszczyk. For any questions related to the Polish Labour Code or employment related topics, please reach out to them or to our representatives Patrycja Zawirska or Grzegorz Ruszczyk.