Contractual penalties

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What penalties can you get at work?

If you’re an employee, your employer can give you three types of penalties if you mess up at work. They can give you:

  1. A warning or reprimand (kara upomnienia i nagany)
  2.  A monetary penalty (kara pieniężna): Your boss can make you pay a fine if you really mess up your job (gross violation of job duties), ignore safety or fire protection rules, skip work without good reason, or show up to work drunk.

If you work on the employment contract, those are the only reasons you can be fined. The penalties can not exceed 10% of your monthly salary, and a penalty for a single violation can’t be higher than your daily wage.

If you cause damage, the employer’s recourse is limited to seeking financial compensation. To establish the employee’s liability, the employer must demonstrate (as per article 116 of the Labor Code) the following:

  • The employee’s fault.
  • Breach of employee duties, which includes non-performance or improper performance of their duties.
  • The actual loss incurred and a clear causal link between the employee’s actions and the resulting damage to the employer’s property.

Penalties on a contract of mandate

Some other rules may apply if you work under a contract of mandate. This contract means you promise to do a job in a certain way, and if you don’t do it right, you might have to pay for any problems or damages you cause.

The rules for this are in the Civil Code. If you break the rules of your contract, you might have to pay money to fix whatever problems you have caused. But if something goes wrong that isn’t your fault, then you might not have to pay.

Three things have to happen for you to have to pay a penalty under this kind of contract:

  • You didn’t do the job right or didn’t do it at all,
  •  Something got damaged because of your mistake (like equipment),
  •  The error you made is what caused the damage.

The contract might say precisely how much you have to pay if you break the rules or you have to take a pay cut for each mistake.

Sometimes, the contract might have different penalties for mistakes, so some might cost more than others. Typically, the contractual liability (in Polish: kary umowne), fixed for a specific breach of obligation, is compensation for damage caused solely by that breach.

When shouldn’t you get a fine?

You can’t always be punished for everything. According to the Civil Code, a contractual penalty (kary unmown) can only be obtained in the non-fulfilment of a non-property obligation – for breaking the rules in a contract, not working, getting late all the time, etc. You should never get fined for the things that don’t influence you to fulfil your tasks, such as speaking with your colleagues in your language.

Sadly, there is no legal upper limit for the penalty similar to rules applying to employment contracts. But the punishment should be proportionate, and if they amount to one-third or half of your salary for getting late twice or not coming to work once, this is illegal.

Remember that if you technically work on the contract of mandate, but you met the criteria of the employment relationship (you work in a specified place and time under supervision), the rules of the Labour Code apply to you. If you go to the Labour Inspectorate or Labour Court, you will be treated as an employer.

Sometimes, having a penalty in the contract isn’t always bad. If the fine is small and the other side might lose a lot if you mess up, keeping that part of the contract might be better. The most you might have to pay is the minor penalty, which will protect you from further consequences of a civil trial. 

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