Stern, C. & Weidenstedt, L. (2020). Broken commitments and unfulfilled expectations: An explorative study of Swedish Labor Court cases. Ratio Working Paper No 339. Stockholm: Ratio.
Little is known about what lies behind serious relational conflicts in the workplace. In this paper, we analyze conflicts emanating from perceptions of broken commitments and unfulfilled expectations as they appear in the Swedish Labor Court. Sweden is a highly regulated and formalized labor market, with high levels of unionization and collective agreement coverage. Yet in a social setting ripe with formal rules and regulation such as this, what role do informal promises and expectations have? The empirical material for this study consists of a sub-set of two years of Labor Court decisions dealing with situations where mutual consent of what has been agreed upon or what is to be expected from each other has broken down. We describe who, when and what causes workplace conflicts and provide examples of typical situations where relations break down to such an extent that the cases are taken to court. The results show some variation between employers and employees, men and women, as well as insiders and outsiders of the Swedish labor market model. Our exploration into court cases in a highly regulated and formalized labor market suggests that regardless of the amount of regulations, people build relationships that go beyond formal rules. And when they interpret and judge their social relations, they will sometimes do so differently – and sometimes the differences will cause severe conflicts. Even in Sweden.