Argentine Court of Appeals in Employment Matters, Section VII, case N° 27.120/2012, 09/12/2014.

In an interesting precedent that recently became public, the Argentine Court of Appeals in Employment Matters ruled on applicable evidentiary standards for employment termination with just cause, in cases involving improper use of the company’s computer network.

In this case, the plaintiff sought compensation for wrongful termination against his former employer. The company, on the other hand, argued that termination was proper since the plaintiff had repeatedly downloaded inappropriate material to his work computer, a violation that warranted dismissal.

A court appointed expert examined the computer used by plaintiff while employed by the company and the company´s servers, and found the inappropriate material in question.

The court of first instance rejected the complaint, on the basis that the defendant produced sufficient evidence to show that the plaintiff had indeed used company property to download and store videos and images of an adult nature. The plaintiff appealed the decision.

On hearing the case, Section VII of the Argentine Court of Appeals in Employment Matters reversed the ruling. In so deciding, the Court of Appeals held that although the defendant did show that the computer in question was used to store inapropiate content, it failed to demonstrate that the plaintiff was indeed responsible for downloading said material. 

In this sense, the Court of Appeals gave special weight to the testimony of two of the plaintiff’s former colleagues. The witnesses explained that although every employee was assigned a computer, an individual user name and a personal password, in practice, employees frequently shared their login credentials. In this context, the Court of Appeals considered that the defendant failed to demonstrate the plaintiff’s misconduct and thus, failed to meet the required evidentiary standard that would substantiate a justified dismissal.

In terms of controlling use of company networks, employers should be aware that assigning individual login credentials is not enough. In the event of misconduct, the employer will be required to show by other means that the improper activity could not have been executed by anyone other than the defendant.