Spain: Court rules on Very Serious Misconduct Committed Outside the Work Place
It is clear that the duty to act in accordance with the rules of good faith and the fulfillment of the contractual commitments are obligations arising in the employment relationship, both for the employee and the employer. Therefore, a serious breach of these employment obligations by the employee may be subject to disciplinary sanction in accordance with Article 54.2.d) of the Workers’ Statute. In this sense, the Court points out that although the aforementioned obligations remain somehow outside the work environment, the employee has the right in his private life to act regardless of the interests of the company. Notwithstanding the foregoing, this does not mean that the employee should be allowed to act in his private sphere to the detriment of the company and engage in behavior that, if it had occurred during working hours, would be lawfully punishable.
Going back to the case at issue, it involves an altercation between employees that took place during the celebration of the company’s Christmas lunch. To be more precise, when the owners of the company had already left, the claimant employee insulted a colleague, attempted to assault another one with a bottle, and slapped another coworker with a wallet while insulting him. And, although the incidents that occurred are severe enough to sanction the employee for a very serious misconduct, they happened outside the work schedule and workplace, making the dismissal action more difficult for the company. Therefore, the question arises as to what conduct can be punished out of working time and place of work?
According to the reasoning of the Supreme Court in the analyzed judgment, the misconduct occurring outside the working hours and workplace that can be subject to disciplinary action is the one that is somehow linked to the employment relationship, insofar as it has a direct or indirect negative impact on the company. And, specifically in the case at hand, it concludes that it is evident that the behavior imputed is clearly connected to the employment relationship, since it affects the relationship between the colleagues of the company, as well as the reputation of the employer itself. The serious conduct of the claimant employee damages the work relationships between him and his coworkers, as well as it damages the image of the company, leading to its discredit in the eyes of third parties, besides seriously undermining the dignity of his coworkers.
It is for all of the above reasons that the Supreme Court deems that, from the circumstances of this case, the relationship between the infringing conduct and the employment relationship is obvious, qualifying consequently the disciplinary dismissal as fair.
Key Action Points for Human Resources and In-house Counsel
This resolution is a key tool for companies that are faced with serious and punishable conduct by an employee, allowing the company to sanction or dismiss the employee for disciplinary reasons even if the misconduct does not take place during working hours or in the workplace, as long as it is effectively related to the employment relationship and results in damages to the employer.