Posting patient photos on Facebook: Cause for Termination?

According to a ruling of the Higher Labour Court (Landesarbeitsgericht, LAG) Berlin-Brandenburg (April 11, 2014 – 17 Sa 2200/13), unauthorized publishing of patient photos, in particular on social networks, can justify a termination of an employment relationship for good cause, since it violates patients’ personal rights and confidentiality obligations. However, in the case at hand the court ruled that the termination of the employment relationship with a nurse was void for reason of being excessive; all circumstances of the case need to be considered.

The nurse had posted pictures of a baby of which she took care on the intensive care unit on her Facebook page. The baby had been abandoned by its mother and its twin sister had died shortly after birth. The nurse’s posts included comments, inter alia, on the death of the baby. According to the court, this behavior would only entitle the hospital to a written warning, but not to a termination of the employment relationship: The nurse had established an emotional connection to the child, which she expressed through the pictures. The child was not exposed by the photos and could not be identified. Moreover, it could neither been seen by the pictures who was the employer nor that the employer  would have approved such publications. Furthermore, the nurse had deleted the pictures immediately after the employer had approached her concerning that matter.