A handshake was not enough

HR News
14 Mar 2011

a carpenter was too slow. therefore, when his employer went bankrupt, it was okay that the estate did not cover his pay claim

Sabine Buhl Valentiner
A carpenter was too slow. Therefore, when his employer went bankrupt, it was okay that the estate did not cover his pay claim.
When an employer goes bankrupt, employees may file a pay claim. But there are no guarantees, particularly not if the claim is filed too long after the bankruptcy. That was the case in this case from the Copenhagen Maritime and Commercial Court.
A carpenter worked 8 months as a foreman at a building site. He had agreed with his employer that he would receive an allowance of about EUR 13.5 per hour for his "foreman" hours.
When the employer went bankrupt, the carpenter filed a claim for his allowance with the Danish Employees’ Guarantee Fund. But the claim was rejected because he was unable to prove that he was entitled to the allowance. The carpenter turned to the trustee of the estate, but with the same result. The carpenter then took the trustee to court.
‘Without undue delay'
In the Copenhagen Maritime and Commercial Court, the carpenter submitted that he had always been able to trust his employer and that their agreement had been sealed with a handshake. He explained that he had filed his claim after the construction work had finished because he believed that it was customary for such allowances to be paid after the work had been done. But he had reminded his employer by telephone about the allowance on several occasions.
The Court sided with the trustee, having regard to the fact that the carpenter had failed to send written reminders, involve his union or ask for a written addendum to his employment contract. Accordingly, the carpenter had failed to pursue his claim ‘without undue delay’ and his claim was therefore dismissed.


Norrbom Vinding notes

  • that the case serves to show, once again, that agreements about pay, allowances, etc., between employee and employer should be made in writing if the employee is to be able to prove that such an agreement has been made; and

  • that, in any case, employees must react as soon as possible if they do not receive their pay.