In its January 20 2016 judgment (II PK 311/14), the Supreme Court ruled that an employee's breach of the obligation to obey an employer's instructions constitutes a violation of the employer's intangible interests. As such, the breach may constitute a justified reason for the immediate termination of the employee's contract.

Facts

The employee was employed as a journalist in a task-based working time system, in which she could choose when and where to perform her duties. The employee refused to participate in a business meeting to which she had been summoned several times by her supervisor. The employee invoked her independence and right to decide when and where to perform her work as the basis of her refusal. Consequently, the employer terminated the employee's employment contract without notice due to a serious breach of her basic employment duties (ie, to obey her employer's instructions).

In the first instance, the district court ruled that the employee's claim was justified and reinstated her. The court indicated that, although the employee should have appeared at the time and location indicated by her supervisor, the refusal to do so did not cause or threaten any material damage on the part of the employer. Thus, there were no grounds for termination of the employment contract without notice. The district court judgment was overturned by the regional court. The employee appealed to the Supreme Court.

Decision

The Supreme Court ruled that the employee's claim was not justified and dismissed it. In its rationale, the court explained that in order for an employer to terminate an employment contract without notice, three elements must be involved:

  • illegality of behaviour (ie, a breach of basic employee obligations);
  • a deliberate mistake or gross negligence; and
  • a breach of or threat to the employer's interests.

It was beyond dispute that the employee's refusal to obey her employer's instructions constituted a breach of her basic obligations and that her behaviour was intentional.

The crucial issue that the Supreme Court analysed was the nature of the employer's interests. The court confirmed that damage is not necessary in order for an employer to terminate an employment contract with immediate effect. Rather, illegally and intentionally breaching the basic employee obligations and infringing or threating to infringe an employer's interests justify the termination of an employment contract.

In the court's view, an employer's interests cannot be reduced to financial loss only. Rather, they must also include intangible elements, such as discipline at work. Discipline at work refers particularly to an employee's obligation to obey an employer's instructions. This obligation applies to each employee, irrespective of whether he or she is employed using a standard or alternative working time system (eg, a task-based working time system) in which the employee has more autonomy to determine the time and place for performing his or her duties.

Comment

The court explained that, irrespective of the working time system in which an employee is employed, he or she is bound by an employer's instructions concerning work, unless they are against the law. Failure to follow instructions can justify the immediate termination of an employment contract if such behaviour infringes or threatens to infringe an employer's interests.

For further information on this topic please contact Roch Palubicki or Agata Mietek at Soltysinski Kawecki & Szlezak by telephone (+48 22 608 7000) or email (roch.palubicki@skslegal.pl or agata.mietek@skslegal.pl). The Soltysinski Kawecki & Szlezak website can be accessed at www.skslegal.pl.

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