In Anton Las v PSA Antwerp NV the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) decided a case involving the application of a Belgian law to cross-border employment contracts.
The company in this case operated in a Dutch-speaking region of Belgium. It was part of a multinational group whose registered office was in Singapore. Las, who was Dutch and resident in the Netherlands, was employed by the company to work primarily in Belgium as its chief financial officer. His employment contract was drafted in English. No translation was ever provided.
Belgian law required employment contracts, for those businesses operating in the Dutch-speaking region of Belgium, to be drafted in Dutch. The law said that the contracts would be null and void in the event of non-compliance.
When Las was dismissed, he argued that his contract was null and void because it was not drafted in Dutch and that he was due a larger termination payment than that provided for under his contract.
The European court decided that Article 45 of EU treaty obligations [relating to the free movement of workers] applies and that in this case the Belgian law was an unjustifiable restriction, stating that the establishment of free and informed consent between the parties to a cross-border employment contract requires those parties to be able to draft their contract in a language other than the official language of a member state. It preferred language legislation, of the type in question, to require the use of an official language and to permit further versions to be drafted in a language known to all the parties concerned.
I owe a gratitude to Constanze Moorhouse, partner at law firm Eversheds for this nugget which I would otherwise have missed (perhaps it got lost in translation).