SC: Threats to employer reason for immediate termination
“If I do not get the centre manager job, I will see to it that the employer cannot draw subsidies and goes bankrupt”, an employee threatened his superiors. When the employer found out, they immediately terminated his employment. The validity of this immediate termination has then been dealt with by the Supreme Court.
The facts of the case were as follows: an employer first dismissed an employee for redundancy. The employee did not accept this, and while in the notice period attempted to get another, higher position with the employer. He asked for the new job claiming that if he did not get it, he would sue for annulment of the redundancy notice, and see to it that the employer would not be able to draw any subsidies. The employer did not tolerate this and immediately terminated his employment. The employee then challenged the termination in court.
The employee sought the annulment of the immediate termination of employment, arguing that he had been just a common employee and his intimidations had been empty threats as in reality, he had no chance to influence the awarding of subsidies. The employer, a non-profit organisation, argued that their operation depended on such funding and that any loss of subsidies would have fatal consequences for them. Both the district and regional (appellate) courts sided with the employee and declared the termination null. In their decisions, they stated that the employee may indeed threaten to take action against the termination of employment, as it is an employee’s legal right to seek the review of the validity of the termination. The threat of making it impossible for the employer to draw subsidies was, according to the courts, not specific or intensive enough to cause an employer’s reasonable concerns that their interests were endangered or damaged. The courts also expressed doubts as to whether, considering his position, the employee would have at all been able to influence the granting of subsidies.
The employer did not give up and filed for a review of the appeal to the Supreme Court. This time, the court did not focus on the consequences that a threat might cause, but rather on whether the employee may have had in fact breached his duties simply by making the threat: the Labour Code stipulates an employee’s obligation to safeguard and protect their employer’s property against damage, loss, destruction and abuse, as well as the obligation not to act contrary to the employer’s justified interests. In its decision, the Supreme Court therefore emphasised that employees must not intentionally cause damage to their employer, material or moral. Above all, the court stated that values such as trust, reliability and honesty are necessary in any employer-employee relationship. It is not relevant whether the employee’s threat had in fact been capable of provoking employer’s reasonable concerns: what was substantial was his utter disloyalty, causing a compete loss of trust. The Supreme Court thus ruled in favour of the employer.
The case proves, yet again, that it may be worthwhile to spend the time (and money) and see a dispute through to the end. Labour case law is not fully established, and, although the Supreme Court’s decision is consistent with its previous case law, the lower degree courts simply did not reflect its opinion. The Supreme Court’s intervention is clearly reasonable – the lower degree courts were about to grant employees a licence to threaten their employers with impunity: before imposing any sanctions, employers would have had to check whether concrete threat could actually be fulfilled – and such an approach would certainly be intolerable in practice.