Employees may terminate their contract and retain the right to compensation for unfair dismissal in view of a serious breach by the employer comprising the failure to effectively protect against psychosocial risks at work, including harassment. 

Judgment delivered by the High Court of Justice of Catalonia on 13 May 2016

The claimant, on leave from work on several occasions, had been receiving psychological and psychiatric treatment following a diagnosis of anxiety and depression susceptible to reducing her working capacity.

The employee formally notified the company in 2015 of the fact that she was suffering physical harassment and intimidation at the hands of her immediate superior, with whom she had previously maintained an intimate relationship.

Although the company implemented its harassment protocol at such time, it had already identified the employee’s problems with her superior in 2012, although ultimately led to no action being taken.

In view of the events, the employee petitioned the termination with severance of her contract due to a serious breach related to the harassment suffered –article 50.1.c) of the Workers’ Statute–.

Having analysed the facts, the court believed there to be insufficient evidence and not even the slightest indication of sexual harassment.

Moreover, the alleged moral harassment following the end of the intimate relationship was also disregarded as unproven due to a lack of evidence concerning inappropriate acts by the superior.

Despite the foregoing, the court believed that the nonexistence of sexual or moral harassment does not rule out the possibility of petitioning the termination of the employment relationship due to a serious breach by the employer.

In this case, the court believed that the company had failed to provide the employee with enough protection with regard to health and safety at the workplace and in guarantee of her integrity, with the following considered proven: (i) the origin of the employee’s anxiety and depression was directly linked to her working circumstances and lack of activity, and (ii) the risk of harassment had not been adequately assessed, given that if proper prevention measures had been implemented –i.e. a straightforward medical recognition of her psychological state–, the worsening of the employee’s health following early signs of anxiety may have been avoided.

Consequently, the requirements to activate the provisions of article 50.1.c) of the Workers’ Statute were met, with said breach considered as grounds for the termination of the agreement and an entitlement to the corresponding compensation for unfair dismissal.