By order of 1 August 2014, the Labour Court of Milan rejected the motion of an employee who was fired by his company on grounds related to the use of Facebook and the Internet in the workplace (Labour Court of Milan, Docket no. 6847/2014, Judge Colosimo).
The facts: at the end of 2013, a company in the Milan area started an employee termination procedure formally charging an employee with taking pictures of himself and some colleagues inside a production unit, posting them on his public Facebook profile, and commenting on them with very unflattering words about his employer, all during working hours. The company also complained that the Internet browsing history of a workstation used by the same employee showed several visits to pornographic websites during working hours.
The company eventually dismissed the employee, on the grounds of absence of care and good faith in the performance of his duties, loss of trust and confidence and serious harm to the company’s reputation.
The employee filed a lawsuit against the company to challenge the dismissal, denying any liability for the alleged charges. He speculated that third parties had obtained the credentials for his Facebook account and had published photos and disparaging comments in his stead. As to the use of a workstation to browse porn sites, he argued that he was not the only employee to have access to the computer in question. However, the petitioner’s defences were contradicted by all the available evidence and by witness statements made during the trial, and the judge was satisfied that the petitioner was indeed entirely liable for all the offences.
On this basis, the proceeding Judge found, fully upholding the company’s claims, that the conduct in question constituted “a clear breach of the most basic employee’s duties of diligence, loyalty and good faith,” and — with reference to the insulting comments made against the company on a public Facebook profile — that they had caused serious harm to the company’s corporate image. The browsing of porn sites during working hours, on the other hand, was according to the Judge behaviour in itself capable of causing an irremediable loss of trust and confidence, also due to the fact that, having occurred during working hours, it implied a discontinuation of the work.
Apparently, the employee did not even make an attempt to challenge whether the company’s review of his web browsing history complied with the Italian DPA’s 2007Guidelines for the Use of E-Mails and the Internet in the Employment Context. Those Guidelines require, for example, employers to specify in detail the permitted uses of e-mail and Internet by employees and recommends the use of filters or other devices to completely prevent the browsing of certain websites. They also prohibit the remote monitoring of workers’ activities carried out, among other things, by means of “reproduction and systematic storage of the web pages viewed by the employee.”
The author has no information as to whether there was simply no factual basis on which to try such a defence. However, it is safe to assume that the outcome of the judgment would not have changed anyway, as, reasonably, the improper use of Facebook alone would have been sufficient to make the dismissal justified.
What is sure is that the Court fully rejected the employee’s petition, confirmed the dismissal, and ordered the former to pay legal fees.