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Does a firm handshake justify a dismissal for cause with immediate effect?

According to the Higher Regional Court Hessen (Landesarbeitsgericht, LAG; docket number: 14 Sa 776/13) a firm handshake causing harm to a superior does not always justify a dismissal for cause with immediate effect.

In the case at hand, the plaintiff and a colleague had a long-term love affair until she became the immediate superior of the plaintiff. After the end of the affair the plaintiff was subject to a number of – mostly unjustified – sanctions by his superior and former lover.

In a progress interview, attended by the superior/former lover, a human resources department representative and a member of the works council, the plaintiff was given another warning. He was also informed that he was put on a performance improvement program because of his unsatisfactory work performance. At the end of the interview the plaintiff shook the hand of his superior/former lover excessively firmly, making her cry. The superior/former lover suffered hematomas to her hand. Due to this incident the employer extraordinarily dismissed the plaintiff.

The court held that generally the incident could justify a dismissal for cause with immediate effect because the plaintiff breached his duty of protection and consideration with regard to the bodily integrity of other employees. However, the justification of a dismissal for cause with immediate effect is subject to a balancing of interests in each case. The court took into account that the plaintiff had been working for the employer for 22 years without any issue. Since the plaintiff acted due to exceptional circumstances the court doubted that there was a danger of re-occurrence. Furthermore, the court took into consideration that no serious bodily injury happened. In conclusion, the dismissal was held to be invalid.