Introduction
Facts
Background

Decision
Comment


Introduction

On 15 December 2021, the Court of Labour delivered a judgment regarding the responsibility of employees to act in response to violence or harassment in the workplace.(1) In the case at hand, an employee who worked in a warehouse was dismissed for being present while one employee physically attacked another. The events took place at the warehouse during working hours and in the presence of other employees.

In its decision, the Court had to provide guidance on whether there could be grounds for dismissal or termination of contract for personal reasons where an employee does not interfere in harassment or violent behaviour caused by another employee.

A "dismissal" ends the employment contract without notice, whereas "termination of contract for personal reasons" entails a salaried notice period.

Facts

In the case at hand, the plaintiff (the concerned employee's union) petitioned the Court of Labour to invalidate the employee's dismissal. The plaintiff also claimed damages for the unjustified dismissal or termination.

The parties did not completely agree regarding the actual circumstances. However, from the Court's assessment of the case, which also included access to a surveillance video from the event, it established that one employee appeared to have pushed and choked another employee while at work and in the presence of other employees, including the employee who would later be dismissed.

The surveillance video showed that the victim left immediately after the incident in a truck that she used for work.

Background

According to Swedish law, committing an act of violence against another employee is a severe breach of employee responsibility and, therefore, a ground for dismissal. This also applies to those who were not primarily responsible for the action. There is no general obligation in Swedish law for individuals, and therefore, employees, to interfere with or try to prevent another person's criminal actions.

However, some employees can be responsible for reporting or interfering in such actions because of their position within the workplace, which may entail the duty of preventing and/or reporting abusive incidents in the workplace. Not doing so, therefore, could be considered a breach of their employment obligations.

Decision

The Court stated in its judgment that interfering in cases of harassment or violent behaviour is not included in the general duty of loyalty in employment relationships or general work environment responsibilities.

The Court further reasoned that the dismissed employee's work duties did not in any way entail responsibility for maintaining order among the employees or prevent other employees to act in a certain way. Even if the employee had witnessed something that was clearly inappropriate, they would not be obliged to interfere. Therefore, the employer did not have sufficient grounds to dismiss the employee.

Comment

The Court's ruling in this case establishes a general limited legal responsibility for an employee to act in cases of harassment or violent behaviour in the workplace, which is in line with other parts of the law. At the same time, the judgment provides ways in which employers could assign responsibilities in such cases to employees. It remains to be seen whether the Court's the ruling will affect the organisation of workplaces in Sweden.

For further information on this topic please contact Viktoria Hybbinette or Sanna Wedding at Wistrand by telephone (+46 31 771 21 00) or email ([email protected] or [email protected]). The Wistrand website can be accessed at www.wistrand.se.

Endnotes

(1) Case No. a 19/21.