Insulting a superior may not always justify an extraordinary dismissal

In a judgment dated July 24, 2014, the Higher Regional Court Rheinland-Pfalz (Landesarbeitsgericht, LAG; docket number: 5 Sa 55/14) held the dismissal of an employee who insulted his boss behind his back invalid.

The employee, who was born in 1962, had worked for the defendant first as a temporary member of staff between 2010 and 2012 and was later hired on a permanent basis. Only about a month later, he was overheard talking to two employees and a temporary worker in the staff smoking room about his boss, calling him a “psychopath”, an “asshole” and saying that “he would show him”. A day earlier, after a loud argument, the superior had kicked the employee out of his office. The employee was subsequently dismissed for insulting his superior.

The court of first instance held that the dismissal was invalid, explaining that the mortification the employee had faced when he was kicked out of the office justified his rage. The court went on to say that it would have been enough to issue a warning letter.

On appeal, the Higher Regional Labour Court confirmed the decision. It added that while theoretically there would have been grounds to dismiss the employee, a simple warning would have been more appropriate under the given circumstances. In particular, the court found that the employee ought have been able to trust that his statements among colleagues would not be passed on to his boss. An employee, according to the court, can only be dismissed without notice if the working relationship is so damaged that it cannot be mended and if there is no other alternative. An ordinary termination would have been invalid for the same reasons. The court also refused to dissolve the employment contract upon the employer’s request, arguing that a dissolution would counteract their ruling.