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A sit-in in a superior’s office to enforce a wage increase may be grounds for termination

A recent judgment by the Higher Regional Labour Court Schleswig-Holstein (Landesarbeitsgericht Schleswig-Holstein, LAG), upheld the dismissal of an employee who blocked her superior’s office in order to obtain a non-tariff salary increase (judgment dated 06 May 2015, 3 Sa 354/14).

The employee, who had been employed by the company for more than twenty years and was responsible for a department of three hundred employees, was paid pursuant to the highest pay grade possible under the relevant collective bargaining agreement. After repeated requests to be paid a higher salary as a non-tariff employee, she started a sit-in, blocking her superior’s office. Despite repeated requests by her superior to leave the office, she stayed, despite threatened consequences (eg a dismissal). Negotiation attempts with the help of the works council and her husband also failed. Three hours after having started her protest, police removed her from the office.

The next morning, she sent an e-mail to her boss, stating “if you have such superiors, you will not need enemies.” The employer subsequently dismissed her both by way of an ordinary termination as well as a termination for cause. The court found that her behaviour, while a severe breach of duty, only justified an ordinary termination as the employee had been employed for twenty-two years without any complaints. Looking at the circumstances of the particular case, however, the court held that the ordinary termination was valid. The employer had tried to resolve the conflict and had tried to de-escalate the situation. It also pointed out that the employee had acted against her function as a role model when she started the sit-in. In these circumstances, a warning letter would not have been sufficient to remedy the situation and restore the required mutual trust.