Unauthorised download of corporate data on a flash disc a particularly gross breach of employees’ duties
The Supreme Court sided with an employer who had immediately terminated the employment of an employee who without authorisation had downloaded 2.2 GB of work-related data on his flash disc. This is good news for all employers, though it must be emphasised that specific circumstances should always be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, and the court’s conclusions in the case in question cannot be applied universally.
The employee sought the invalidity of an immediate termination of employment by claiming that he had been authorised to handle the employer’s data as part of his job with the employer. The district court sided with the employee, having determined that employees indeed received flash discs from the employer and were authorised to download data even without the employer’s consent. In the court’s opinion, the employee’s intention to leak or sell the data was not proven.
The Municipal Court in Prague reversed the decision, arguing that while the employee had been authorised to use the flash disc without the employer’s consent, this use was to be solely limited to the transfer of data between a stationary computer and a notebook. In the case in question, however, it was proved that the employee did not download the data for work-related purposes. Therefore, in the court’s opinion, the employee had breached his duties, and the immediate termination of his employment remained valid.
In its appellate review, the Supreme Court mainly dealt with the intensity of the breach of work duties, i.e. whether the case involved a particularly gross breach of duties where the employer cannot be reasonably requested to continue employing the employee, not even for the usual termination notice period. The court considered the employer’s business activity (the employer was a bank), the employee’s position (the employee was in a position where he could access sensitive data), and the clarity and strictness of the employer’s instructions and internal policies regulating the handling of data. The court also reflected on the employee having downloaded the entire content of his mailbox, including sensitive data concerning the credit and other activities of the employer and its clients. The Supreme Court then arrived at the same conclusions as the Municipal Court in Prague, dismissing the employee’s action for annulment of the immediate termination of employment, with final and conclusive effect.
Notwithstanding the above, it is advisable that employers always proceed carefully when resorting to immediate terminations of employment. The intensity of the breach in question may be subject to review by a court, which will then have to consider, for instance, an employee’s personal circumstances, the office they hold, their attitude towards working duties so far, the timing and circumstances of the breach, the extent of employees’ fault, the manner and intensity of a breach of concrete duties, the consequences of the breach, i.e. whether the employee caused any damage to the employer. It might be especially difficult for the employer to estimate in advance whether there is a chance of defending the immediate termination in court, if necessary. In this respect, detailed knowledge of recent case law is the only guidance.