In an April 21 2016 judgment the Supreme Court of Justice held that an employer had demonstrated a breach of its duty to provide its employee with sufficient work, which had left him completely inactive for a number of years.(1) In doing so, the court held that the employer had caused the employee humiliation, embarrassment and isolation in the eyes of his colleagues and created a difficult and disturbing work environment for him.

Facts

From December 2007 to April 2009 the employee was allocated an office of approximately nine square metres, where he remained isolated. In addition, he had:

  • no assigned tasks;
  • no telephone access; and
  • a computer with access exclusively limited to the employer's intranet site.

In October 2012 the employer gave the employee a single task to carry out: to check whether its thermal sensors were correctly counting the number of clients entering its shops. This required the employee to remain outside a shop and manually operate the mechanical equipment to count each client.

The employee felt humiliated and embarrassed by this task and by having to explain what he was doing to colleagues, friends and family.

As a result, in January 2013 the employee brought legal action against the employer before the Judicial Court of Viana de Castelo. He alleged that since 2007 the company had acted towards him in a way that amounted to mobbing or psychological harassment by keeping him employed without allocating him any tasks and unjustifiably preventing him from working.

The employee also argued that the situation had caused him "intense and profound emotional suffering, a behavioural disorder and effects on his family and emotional relationships".

The court partially upheld the employee's claim.

First appeal

The parties appealed to the Guimaraes Court of Appeal and in 2015 it ordered the employer to pay compensation of €100,000 for non-financial losses resulting from psychological harassment. The court also ordered the company to refrain from any of the conduct it had been engaging in since December 2007. Specifically, the court ordered the company not to leave the employee without work to do and to allocate him tasks in line with the professional qualifications of a senior staff member.

Second appeal

Taking into account the facts of the case, which were found proven by the Guimaraes Court of Appeal and the lower courts, the Supreme Court of Justice upheld the Guimaraes Court of Appeal's decision. The Supreme Court of Justice ordered the employer to pay the employee €50,000 as compensation for non-financial losses as a consequence of the psychological harassment it had inflicted on him.

For further information on this topic please contact Filipe Azoia at AAMM Sociedade de Advogados RL by telephone (+351 211 940 538) or email (fa@aamm.pt). The AAMM website can be accessed at www.aamm.pt.

Endnotes

(1) Case 79/13.5TTVCT.G1.S1, available at www.dgsi.pt.

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