Czech Officials Imposing Fines for Minor Infractions

Some officials are conducting inspections in small firms and among entrepreneurs so strictly that it appears they are solely seeking reasons to impose high fines, regardless of the trivial nature of the infraction. This was discussed at a recent seminar in Parliament on family businesses.

Many entrepreneurs describe their experiences with officials in detail, but only on condition that they are not mentioned by name. One of the few who was not afraid to speak specifically was Martin Pěnička, director of the company Penda in Jičín, which sells printers and toners. He described the ruthless inspections over the past five years in detail, providing all the necessary documents.

For example, one inspection was carried out by the local environmental inspection and concerned the mandatory collection of used equipment for eco disposal. “On our website, an officer found a four-year-old article in which we describe how to deal with an old printer. However, we mistakenly did not mention shredders in the article. I corrected this deficiency on the website on the spot, changing the word to “electrical equipment”,” said Pěnička.

Despite this, the official initiated administrative proceedings and imposed a fine of twenty thousand crowns. “I tried to prove that we collect all electrical equipment, including shredders, by providing bundle summaries from the shipping company. She did not accept it,” Pěnička described.

In another inspection, officials from the Trade Inspection and the Trade Licensing Office drew up and signed inspection protocols on the spot, none of which contained any identified deficiencies. “It was not until several days later, when the protocol was being transcribed into the inspection report, that the Trade Inspection slightly modified the information about how it obtained the price list of our services by adding the sentence that it was requested from the staff,” Pěnička said.

Based on this, the company was fined ten thousand crowns. The price list was supposed to be on the counter, even though it is on the company’s website, and customers today look up prices there, or the company prints them for customers at the store.

In addition, the employee of the Trade Licensing Office described in the protocol that “the price list was found at the store.” However, according to the Trade Inspection, the price list was supposed to be on the counter automatically without mercy.

“We print price lists at all our branches every day. We perceived the imposed fine as strongly unjust. We appealed, but it was rejected. Then we filed an administrative complaint against the Trade Inspection’s procedure. Still, the court rejected it because we did not formally dispute the change in the protocol entry correctly and therefore did not deal with the factual side of the matter at all,” Pěnička explained.

Another case: “An inspector bought our toner from our partner and initiated an inspection against us, even though we did not have a store there, and from the beginning, we said that the employee being inspected was an employee of another company,” Pěnička said.

“All in all, twenty letters have been exchanged between us and the labor inspectorate. We are even threatened with a fine of up to one hundred thousand,” he said.

According to Pěnička, these situations have one thing in common: the intention to demand a fine at any cost. It is not about finding out the true state of affairs but solely about imposing a fine for anything.

Právo reports similar experiences from other small business owners and entrepreneurs, although they do not want to be named in the newspaper. One has a locksmith’s workshop in Prague-West and was fined twenty thousand by the Trade Licensing Office for incorrectly filling out the worker’s statement for an agreement, reportedly with the words “to remember that the law is being followed.”

Another, the owner of a driving school, was also pleased to pay only five thousand “because something always has to be found.”

Právo asked the Czech Trade Inspection (ČOI) and the Czech Environmental Inspection (ČIŽP) for comment on whether any officials have been dismissed for excessive uncompromising zeal during inspections and how many complaints they have received about inadequate official procedures or how many administrative proceedings they have initiated.

“We do not have any complaints or administrative proceedings in this regard for this year or the previous year. Regarding the mentioned case, our legal department would have to assess it,” wrote ČIŽP spokesman Jiří Ovečka in a prompt response. ČOI has not yet commented on the issue.