Termination due to reading and disclosure of data
If an employee, who has access to her employer's PC and email account in the course of her accounting duties, reads an email addressed to her superior without authorisation and makes a copy of the attachment of an obviously private email, which she passes on to a third person, this justifies termination without notice.
This was decided by the Cologne Regional Labour Court on 02.11.2021 and the contrary decision of the Aachen Labour Court of 22.04.2021 -8 Ca 3432/20- was overturned.
The plaintiff has been employed by the employer, a Protestant church congregation, as an administrative employee for 23 years. As far as necessary for her accounting tasks, she had access to the pastor's service computer. In this work computer, the plaintiff took note of an email which informed the pastor of a preliminary investigation against him on suspicion of sexual assault of a woman living in the church asylum of the congregation. In the email account, she found a chat history between the pastor and the woman concerned as an attachment to a private email, which she saved on a USB stick and anonymously forwarded to a volunteer of the congregation a week later. The plaintiff stated that she had wanted to protect the woman living in church asylum and to secure evidence. After the incidents became known, the parish terminated the employment relationship without notice.
In the first instance, the plaintiff was successful in her action for protection against dismissal before the Aachen Labour Court. Although the court found that her conduct constituted an important reason for termination without notice, it considered this to be disproportionate due to the long and previously unencumbered employment relationship and the lack of a risk of repetition.
The church congregation's appeal against this decision was successful. The Cologne Regional Labour Court considered the relationship of trust necessary for the plaintiff's duties to be irretrievably destroyed. In the court's view, the unauthorised access to and disclosure of other people's data was a serious breach of the duty of consideration under the employment contract, also because of the associated violation of personal rights. This was also not justified by the motives put forward by the plaintiff to protect the woman living in the church asylum and to secure evidence. This was because the plaintiff had not been able to achieve any of the stated goals with her course of action. In view of the seriousness of the breach of duty, the congregation's interest in a solution clearly outweighed the plaintiff's interest in employment. Even the first-time acceptance of this breach of duty was unreasonable for the municipality according to objective standards and thus obviously excluded - also recognisable for the plaintiff.
The Regional Labour Court did not allow the appeal.
Source: Press release of the Regional Labour Court Cologne No. 1/2022 of 03.01.2022
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