The end of an employment relationship can be a difficult and stressful time for both the employer and the employee. In most cases, the parties will part ways amicably and the employee will move on to new endeavours.

Sometimes, however, a disgruntled former employee will take the situation personally and seek to make things difficult for the former employer and his former colleagues. In an extreme case, those actions might amount to harassment, leaving the former employer at a loss as to how to protect the business against the individual's hostile acts.

In the 2012 case of Global Medical Solutions Hong Kong v Ma Man Lung an employer obtained an injunction against a former employee restraining him from 'assaulting, harassing, intimidating, threatening or pestering' his former employer or any of its employees, suppliers or customers. Recently, the High Court rejected the former employee's application to discharge the injunction.

Background

The injunction in this case was obtained in 2012 after the employee, having been dismissed by his employer after a short period of employment, commenced a campaign of intimidation and harassment of his former employer and its employees, suppliers and customers.

In particular, the employee: (i) made silent telephone calls to the company; (ii) placed unauthorised orders on behalf of his former employer with the company's suppliers; (iii) placed false orders with his former employer, pretending he worked for the company's clients; and (iv) made unjustified complaints against his former employer to the regulatory authorities.

Although the employee denied the allegations against him, the court was satisfied that the allegations were substantiated by the evidence and granted an injunction restraining the employee from engaging in future acts of harassment, intimidation and other inappropriate acts targeted at his former employer and its business.

Application to discharge the injunction

Most recently, the employee sought to have the injunction discharged on the basis that four years had passed and, he claimed, the injunction precluded him from competing with his former employer or contacting his former employer's customers or suppliers. He argued that it was unfair that he be restrained indefinitely.

The court disagreed, declining to discharge the injunction. While the court held that it had no jurisdiction in any event to grant the orders sought, it went further to say that, even if it had jurisdiction to do so, it was not persuaded that there was  a case for it discharge the injunction. The court was satisfied that the injunction did not prevent the individual from competing with his former employer; rather, it served only to prevent him from assaulting, harassing, intimidating, threatening or pestering his former employer and others associated with his former employer. That is, as the court pointed out, something he is not supposed to do in any event.

What this means for employers

The court's approach to this matter demonstrates that the courts in Hong Kong will act to protect employers from the actions of disgruntled former employees where there is sufficient grounds to believe that the former employee's acts are likely to have a sufficiently detrimental impact on the employer's business.

The court's refusal to discharge the injunction in this case is significant. It recognises that an individual may, in the ordinary course of business, contact his former employer and/or its customers and other business contacts, but that conduct that crosses the line into harassment will be taken seriously.