Czech Supreme Court rules evaluation by employer in termination case binding
Last year, the Czech Supreme Court addressed the question of whether the employer’s evaluation of an employee’s breach of work discipline was binding in a termination notice. Under Czech law, there are three levels of a work discipline breach – (i) less serious, (ii) serious and (iii) gross.
In a recent case, the employee was given a termination notice for systematic (continuous) ‘less serious’ breaches of work discipline (this is allowed under Czech law only if there are three consecutive breaches of work discipline and the employer has advised the employee of the possibility of being terminated in its warning letter delivered after the first or second breach). The court ruled in the first instance that the notice was invalid because in a warning letter to the employee, the employer informed the employee of the possibility of termination if there was another repetition of the breach and described the employee’s conduct as a gross breach of work discipline, rather than a ‘less serious’ one.
The Court of Appeal later overruled the previous court’s decision, stating the employee’s conduct was in fact a serious breach of work discipline due to its ‘intensity’and the notice given to the employee was therefore justified. Neither the previous warning letter nor the employee’s conduct described within the letter needed to be assessed, and the Court of Appeal found the notice valid. This ruling, in our opinion, complies with previous judgments of the Supreme Court (especially with decision no. 21 Cdo 560/2012), a case which explored the possibility of reclassification and conversely imposed an obligation on courts to focus on the ‘intensity’ of the work discipline breach.
However, in this case the Supreme Court came to a different conclusion and stated that although the court is not bound by an employer’s legal assessment in a termination notice, it does not have unfettered discretion. If the employer decides to classify particular conduct in the notice for example as a less serious breach, the court cannot reach its own conclusion as to the same breach of discipline as being more severe (e.g. as a serious or even gross breach). The Supreme Court thus overturned the Court of Appeals’ decision.
From a practical point of view, the Supreme Court’s decision is important when considering giving notice to an employee for less serious breaches, especially when it is unclear if all conditions for giving notice for that reason had been met (particularly whether there were three consecutive breaches of work discipline and the employer advised the employee of the possibility of being given notice in its written warning letter). Under such circumstances, it would probably be more preferable to use more general wording in the termination notice. Rather than specifically stating that the notice is being given for less serious breaches of work discipline. Instead it would be better to describe the employee’s conduct only in factual terms.
By using such wording a court would then have the authority to reclassify at least one of the employee’s breaches of work discipline as serious or even gross and so assess the notice as valid.
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