Germany: Defamation via WhatsApp Justified Immediate Discharge

 

By Anja Becher September 11, 2019
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​Sharing an untrue, defamatory claim about a colleague with another co-worker through WhatsApp justified termination without notice in Germany. Notice ordinarily is required prior to firing someone in Germany, but not in such extraordinary circumstances.

Background

An employee heard from a distant acquaintance that one of her colleagues, who is also the father of the company's managing director, was allegedly a convicted rapist. The employee contacted another co-worker and informed her of this false rumor using the messaging service WhatsApp. The co-worker then told the managing director about this WhatsApp communication with the employee. The managing director immediately fired the employee.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Introduction to the Global Human Resources Discipline]

Court's Decision

The Labor Court upheld this so-called extraordinary termination—deemed as such because it occurred without notice.

The rumor that the fired employee shared via WhatsApp was untrue and had the potential to damage her colleague's reputation. The false allegation was also likely to discredit the colleague in public. According to the Labor Court, passing an allegation on to only one person is sufficient to be considered a damaging dissemination. It is also irrelevant that the dismissed worker assumed that the recipient would treat the message confidentially.

The Labor Court also took into account that the untruthful claim spread by the dismissed employee was an extremely serious allegation. If the false rumor had become public, customer relations might have been damaged. Since the subject of the rumor was the father of the managing director, the fired worker had also undermined the position of the managing director.

An employer does not have to tolerate such behavior.

Anja Becher is an attorney with Ogletree Deakins in Berlin.

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