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A Firing Offence?

A Firing Offence?

Czech Republic
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As you would expect, the Czech Labour Code permits an employer unilaterally to dismiss an employee who breaches his or her work duties. But when? The Czech Supreme Court has recently ruled that even a minor breach can suffice. 

Under the Czech Labour Code there are three categories of breach of an employee’s work duties: gross, serious and less serious. An employer may, in exceptional cases, summarily dismiss an employee for a gross breach, otherwise he or she must be dismissed on notice. If a breach is classed as less serious it can serve as ground for termination only if, within a reasonable period, it has occurred at least three times and a warning notice has been given in the 6 months before notice is given. The notice period is 2 months or such longer period as the employer and employee may agree in writing.

Needless to say, an employer's opinion as to the severity of a breach (and whether dismissal, whether summary or on notice, is warranted) need not be shared by the courts. After considering the evidence in a particular case, the court may arrive at a completely different conclusion. These can sometimes be surprising. Who would expect, for instance, that a cook taking home waste food from a canteen or a chef objecting to a menu set by management would be firing offences? At the other end of the scale, one manager went AWOL for seven days but was not, in the relevant court’s opinion, guilty of a serious breach of his work duties.

This spring the Czech Supreme Court considered whether any, even the most trivial, breach of an employee’s work duties could result in dismissal, or whether, as prescribed by the Labour Code, the severity of the violation must at least reach the level of a “less serious” breach. 

In the given case, an employee disputed the validity of a termination notice given for his repeated minor breaches. The individual in question was employed as a customer sales manager and was in the habit of providing monthly surveys and processing internal documents with a delay of a few hours or days, which he believed had no negative impact on the employer. Indeed, one of the delays was caused by a technical problem affecting the service vehicle used by him. Evidence was heard that the employee otherwise received positive reviews from the employer and, in the period under review, was even praised by management. 

In its testimony the employer did not claim that the employee’s conduct caused it damage or other adverse consequences. The lower courts therefore reached the conclusion that the employee’s conduct could not even be regarded as a “less serious” breach of his duties. Accordingly, the employer had not been entitled to dismiss the employee on notice.

When the case came before the Supreme Court, the justices affirmed a 2001 ruling of the Supreme Court which held that only three categories of employee breach exist, as described above. As such, even the most trivial breach of an employee’s duties would fall into the “less serious” category and may therefore serve as a ground for dismissal.

The Supreme Court’s decision should be welcomed in terms of affirming its previous interpretation of the statutory text. However, case law may change again over time and the rule of thumb for employers must always be to exercise caution before dismissing an employee, not for a gross breach of his or her work duties, but for a repeated minor breach. 

By Christian Blatchford, Partner, and Viktor Zelinka, Associate, Kocian Solc Balastik

Czech Republic Knowledge Partner

PRK Partners, one of the leading Central European law firms, has been helping clients achieve their business objectives almost 30 years. Our team of lawyers, based in our Prague, Ostrava, and Bratislava offices, has a unique knowledge of Czech and Slovak law and of the business environment. Our lawyers studied at top law schools in the United States, United Kingdom, Switzerland and elsewhere. They also have experience working for leading international and domestic law firms in a number of jurisdictions. We speak your language, too. Our legal team is fluent in more than 15 languages, including all the key languages of the region.

PRK Partners has one of the most experienced legal teams on the market. We are consistently rated as one of the leading law firms in the region. We have received many significant honours and awards for our work. We represent the interests of international clients operating in the Czech Republic in an efficient way, combining local knowledge with an understanding of their global requirements in a business-friendly approach. We are one of the largest law firms in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Our specialised teams of lawyers and tax advisors advise major global corporations as well as local companies. We provide comprehensive legal advice drawing on our profound knowledge of local law and markets.

Our legal advice delivers tangible results – as proven by our strong track record. We are the only Czech member firm of Lex Mundi, the world's leading network of independent law firms. As one of the leading law firms in the region, we have received many national and international awards, in some cases several years in a row. Honours include the Chambers Europe Award for Excellence, The Lawyer and Czech and Slovak Law Firm of the Year. Thanks to our close cooperation with leading international law firms and strong local players, we can serve clients in multiple jurisdictions around the globe. Our strong network means that we can meet your needs, wherever you do business.

PRK Partners has been repeatedly voted among the most socially responsible firms in the category of small and mid-sized firms and was awarded the bronze certificate at the annual TOP Responsible Firm of the Year Awards.

Our work is not only “business”: we have participated on a longstanding basis in a wide variety of pro bono projects and supported our partners from the non-profit sector (Kaplicky Centre Endowment Fund, Tereza Maxová Foundation, Czech Donors Forum, etc.).

Firm's website: www.prkpartners.com

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