Wal-Mart officials haven't decided whether they will appeal the rulingImage: AP
Labor of Love in the German Workplace
DW staff (tkw)
November 15, 2005
A court in Germany has upheld the right of the nation's citizens to flirt at work. The ruling comes in response to US supermarket chain Wal-Mart's company policy banning any sign of attraction between its workers.
A court in the city of Düsseldorf ruled that the German subsidiary of the world's largest retailer, Wal-Mart, was acting outside the law in trying to impose restrictions on the nature of relationships allowed between its employees.
The court said that while such regulations might be acceptable and indeed common practice in the US, they are neither compatible with German labor law nor the personal rights of employees.
Wal-Mart introduced a code of ethical conduct earlier in the year. It prohibits company employees from dating or falling in love with a colleague in a position of influence, and from exchanging lustful glances or flirting in any way.
In its 28-page code, the discount chain, requests that its workers report anyone observed to be breaking the rules, via a special telephone hotline. Failure to comply with the rules can lead to the termination of an employment contract.
The ruling means that the 10,500 employees can get on with flirtation as usual without worrying about being stabbed in the back by officious colleagues.
But Gregor Sobotta, personnel manager at Wal-Mart Germany, said the company's policy has been misunderstood.
"The measures were intended to protect our employees against exertion of influence, corruption or sexual harassment in the workplace," he said, adding that no employee should be disadvantaged on the grounds of a love match with a superior, and said that the company would deal with such situations by simply moving one of the workers concerned to a different department.
Wal-Mart can officially appeal the tribunal's ruling, but Sobotta said there will be no decision on that until they have received the court's reasons on paper. Following the ruling, however, he said he would be holding talks with the company's workers' council in a bid to banish fears, clear up misunderstandings, and come up with an acceptable set of rules for the protection of the workers.
In defense of the hotline, to which the workers' council has voiced opposition, the head of personnel moved to assure employees that it is totally anonymous. He said nobody would be professionally disadvantaged as a result of using the hotline, adding that "every accusation is closely examined."