German-based supermarket chain Aldi is under fire after details of questionable clauses in employee contracts were brought to light by news website Avisen.dk today.
Experts in contract law and representatives of employee unions were alarmed by the clauses, which may be illegal.
Among the clauses in a standard contract is the right for managers to search employees’ belongings, lockers and cars at the end of the work day, a practice that one Aldi manager said was common.
“It’s rather normal that they ask you to open the boot of your car,” the manager told Avisen.dk, adding that he risked losing his job if he spoke to the media.
Representatives of trade union HK told Avisen.dk that while they accepted that employees could be searched when they left work, searching an employee's vehicle was another issue.
“It’s a serious problem. Bags and cars are personal items that Aldi cannot interfere with,” HK representative Mai Britt Tand said, adding that the company's right to search an employee's vehicle without any justification was objectionable.
Kim Jensen, a manager with HK, said the union had been trying to get Aldi to change its contracts for some time but with limited success.
“We have been pursuing Aldi and its contracts because they are unreasonable and obscene, but we haven’t managed to get them to do so,” Jensen said.
Jensen was critical of other clauses in Aldi contracts, including the company's claim to compensation awarded to its employees.
The contracts state that if employees are unable to work as a result of an injury caused by a third party, the employee must hand over to Aldi the details of the third party and the incident that lead to the injury.
If the employee is then awarded damages for pain suffered or lost earnings, Aldi may then demand that the employee compensate the company the cost of hiring replacement staff from their compensation.
“Employees have the right to their damages precisely because they have been injured. We find it’s disrespectful that they would want to profit from the compensation, “ Jensen said.
Other controlling measures found in the contracts include defining holiday as ‘recuperation time’ for employees, effectively banning them from performing any activity, such as work or active holidays, that would prevent them from resting.
Lawyers expressed surprise when presented with the contracts.
“I have never seen anything like it,” Peter Breum, from Elmer and Partner, a firm that has 25 years of experience in employment law, said of the compensation clause. “It’s probably not illegal but it’s highly unusual and it’s definitely bad practice because it may put its employees in a difficult situation.”
Martin Gras Lind, lawyer and lecturer in employment law at business college Handelshøkskole Århus, questioned the legality of the contracts.
“In my view, the contract could be invalid in some circumstances, even though the employee signed it. Compensation as a result of personal injury is often protected.”
Jan Lund, managing director for Aldi in Denmark, declined to contribute to Avisen.dk's article.