The key differences in labour law between USA and Poland

April 24, 2024

Contents

Introduction

Despite being separated by an ocean, the United States and Poland share similarities as democratic nations with market-based economies. However, their approaches to regulating the employer-employee relationship diverge significantly, shaped by distinct historical trajectories, societal values, and legal traditions.

This article delves into the key areas where US and Polish labour laws differ, highlighting the unique features and underlying philosophies characterising each country’s regulatory framework.

Key Differences

Employment Contracts

  • USA: US labour law does not mandate written employment contracts, relying instead on the “at-will” employment doctrine. Employers and employees can generally terminate the relationship at any time for any reason (unless discriminatory or retaliatory).
  • Poland: Polish law requires that all employment relationships be formalised through comprehensive written contracts before work commences. Verbal agreements are not legally binding.

Minimum Wage

  • USA: The federal minimum wage in the US is $7.25 per hour, though many states and cities have higher minimum wages. Certain categories of workers are exempt from minimum wage laws.
  • Poland: Poland has a national monthly minimum wage that applies to all employees, regardless of industry or job role. As of 1st of January 2024, the monthly minimum wage is 4242 PLN (around $1073).

Working Hours

  • USA: There is no federally mandated maximum working week, though overtime pay (time-and-a-half) is required for non-exempt employees working over 40 hours. Some states have additional overtime regulations.
  • Poland: The standard working week in Poland is 40 hours for full-time employees, with a maximum of 8 hours per day. Overtime is capped at 150 hours per year, with overtime pay rates at 50% above regular hourly wages on weekdays and 100% on Sundays/holidays.

Leave Entitlements

  • USA: The US does not mandate paid annual leave or holidays, though employers often provide paid time off as a benefit. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides for eligible employees 12 weeks of job-protected unpaid leave.
  • Poland: Polish workers are entitled to a minimum of 20 days of paid annual leave, increasing to 26 days after 10 years of employment. Paid maternity leave is granted for 20 weeks, with options to extend.

Termination of Employment

  • USA: Due to the at-will doctrine, employers generally do not need to provide advance notice or justification for terminating employees, except in specific cases like discrimination, retaliation, or breach of contract.
  • Poland: Polish law requires employers to provide valid justification when terminating employment contracts. Statutory notice periods range from 2 weeks to 3 months based on length of service. Severance pay may also be required.

Unions and Collective Bargaining

  • USA: Federal law protects the rights of private sector employees to form unions and engage in collective bargaining. However, union membership has declined significantly, impacted by right-to-work laws and the shift in the service economy.
  • Poland: Polish workers have the constitutional right to form and join trade unions, as well as the right to strike. However, union density and collective bargaining coverage remain relatively low compared to some Western European countries.

Anti-Discrimination Provisions

  • USA: Federal anti-discrimination laws prohibit employment discrimination based on race, colour, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, and other protected categories. Enforcement is handled by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
  • Poland: Poland’s Labour Code prohibits employment discrimination based on gender, age, disability, race, religion, nationality, political beliefs, union membership, and ethnic origin. However, advocacy groups argue for stronger enforcement and broader protections.

Historical and Cultural Contexts

The distinctive approaches to labour law in the US and Poland are rooted in their unique historical experiences and cultural value systems:

  • USA: American labour laws strongly emphasise economic freedom, individual rights, and limited government intervention in the private sector. The at-will employment doctrine exemplifies this laissez-faire philosophy.
  • Poland: Poland’s labour regulations stem partly from its historical experience with state socialism, emphasising worker protections and the rights of unions. Its transition to a market economy influenced subsequent reforms.

Convergence Through International Standards

Despite their national differences, both the US and Poland have been influenced by international labour standards established by bodies like the International Labour Organization (ILO):

  • Adherence to ILO conventions has prompted some convergence in areas like prohibiting forced labour, ensuring freedom of association, and combating discrimination.
  • However, significant divergences persist due to each country’s ability to ratify and implement conventions according to their distinct legal systems and policy priorities.

Conclusion

The United States and Poland exemplify how two democratic, market-oriented economies can take vastly different approaches to regulating the employer-employee relationship.

While international standards provide some common reference points, national labour law systems reflect the unique historical narratives, cultural values, and policy priorities that shape a nation’s approach to the world of work. Recognising and respecting these differences is key to fostering productive, equitable, and legally compliant workforces across borders.

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