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Failure to disclose foreign travel during a pandemic as a serious breach of basic employee obligations

Judgment of the Regional Court in Olsztyn of 29 January 2021, ref. no. IV Pa 79/20

According to the judgment of the Regional Court in Olsztyn of 29 January 2021 (ref. no. IV Pa 79/20), withholding information from the employer about foreign travel during a pandemic may be considered a serious breach of basic employee obligations and constitute a justifiable reason for termination of employment due to the employee’s fault. With this judgment, the Court dismissed the appeal of an employee who was claiming compensation for what he believed was the illegal termination of his employment contract.

The claimant had worked for the defendant company as a forklift operator since August 2018. At the beginning of April 2020, the company dismissed him without notice under Article 52 of the Labour Code.  The reason was his withholding of information about a foreign trip he had taken on 28 and 29 March 2020, despite the fact that at that time the company, in connection with the COVID -19 epidemic, had introduced a requirement for all employees to provide it with information on any foreign trips they had taken. In addition, the claimant was alleged to have lied repeatedly to, among others, the president of the company and his immediate superiors about the fact that he had travelled abroad.

The employee appealed against the termination to the District Court in Bartoszyce. He pointed out that his employment contract did not contain a clause stating that he could not perform work on his days off, whether under another employment contract or under a contract of mandate (which was the purpose of his trip). At the same time, he confirmed that he had travelled to the Netherlands on 28 and 29 March 2020.

The company requested the dismissal of the appeal, indicating that, in connection with the COVID-19 epidemic, it had issued a business order obliging all employees to inform it of their return from any foreign trip, in order to decide on further security measures for other employees and for production.

The District Court in Bartoszyce dismissed the employee’s appeal. He then filed an appeal against this decision, which was also dismissed by the Regional Court in Olsztyn. In its ruling, the Regional Court stated that the obligation of the employee to inform the human resources department and the competent manager about returning from a country where coronavirus is present did not in any way violate his freedom set out in Article 52 of the Constitution of the Republic of Poland and § 3 of the Ordinance of the Minister of Health of 20 March 2020 on the declaration of an epidemic in the territory of the Republic of Poland. This is because the order did not prohibit the employee from moving around the country or going abroad, but only ordered him to inform the company about doing so. The claimant by his behaviour breached the obligation to observe the rules of social co-existence, the rule of looking after the interests of the employing establishment, as well as the rule of observing occupational health and safety regulations.

 

Agnieszka Tarasiuk, Paralegal