Ruling of the Supreme Court of Justice of 2016-04-21

First instance ruling upheld - Unlawful disciplinary measure - Expiry of contract - Duty to provide the employee with work to do - Moral damages

In the ruling in question, the Supreme Court of Justice considered proved that the company had breached its duty to provide the employee with work to do by having reduced him to complete inactivity for several years. The  Court could  not fail to conclude that the company's conduct had caused the employee humiliation, embarrassment in front of his colleagues and isolated him, placing him in a demeaning and upsetting work environment.

The case was brought by the employee in January 2013, since he was of the opinion that the company's behaviour towards him since 2007 was tantamount to moral harassment, having left him without any tasks to complete and groundlessly opposing the performance of any real work.

Proceedings were initiated in Viana do Castelo Court in which the case was partially successful, with the parties having lodged appeals to the Guimarães Court of Appeal, which in 2015, ordered the company to pay 100,000 Euros in compensation, for moral damages arising from moral harassment and to refrain from all the forms of behaviour adopted since December 2007, specifically, leaving the employee without any work, and to assign him tasks suited to his occupational skills and fitting for a senior manager.

The Supreme Court paid particular attention to the facts considered proved in the lower courts:

  • Between December 2007 and April 2009, the employee was assigned to an office measuring approximately nine square meters as his workplace, where he was cut off, without any task assigned to him, no telephone access and provided with a computer which could only be used to consult the “staff web portal”.
  • In October 2012, the company proposed just one task to the employee which was to ascertain whether or not the thermal sensors in the shops properly detected customers entering. For this purpose, the employee had to remain on-site, outside the shop and manually operate a piece of mechanical equipment for each customer.
  • “The employee felt humiliated, embarrassed and dejected by this task and having to explain what he was doing to colleagues and acquaintances who he encountered there”, claiming that this situation caused him “intense and deep emotional pain, with mood swings and an impact on his family relationship and affections.”

On the basis of the above, the Supreme Court of Justice ordered the company to pay the employee the sum of €50,000 in compensation for moral damages, arising from the moral harassment that the victim had suffered at the company's hands.