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Belgian employee dismissed for sending defamatory e-mail from his home e-mail address

Belgian employee dismissed for sending defamatory e-mail from his home e-mail address

In a recent decision the Liège Labour Court of Appeal has held that a Sales Manager who sent an e-mail from his private e-mail address to one of the two managing directors of the company in which he criticized the other managing director, as well as the general manager of the company, was lawfully dismissed for serious cause.

In the e-mail he accused the other managing director and the general manager of systematic and combined attacks on him and alleged that they had misrepresented to him the real nature of his functions.  He also stated that they were incapable of managing the company, notably because of their inability to make a decision and their technical incompetence and ignorance of modern technologies. Finally, he alleged that they were only interested in themselves and not in the welfare of the company and that the general manager was destructive. The day following the sending of the e-mail the employee was invited to present his excuses but refused to do so.

The court held that the content of the e-mail was insulting and defamatory and therefore satisfied the legal test for summary dismissal for serious cause, namely the commission of an act that immediately renders impossible any further working relationship between the parties.

In coming to its decision, the Court rejected the argument that the e-mail was protected by the employee’s privacy rights on the grounds that the e-mail was not private or confidential. Furthermore, the e-mail was admissible as evidence because it had been addressed to the company and had not been obtained illegally by any unlawful intrusion into the employee’s private computer or correspondence.  

The case is another example of the court having to decide whether in the particular circumstances of the case the employee’s criticism of his employer justified summary dismissal. It also confirms recent case law in respect of employee’s privacy rights and the admissibility of evidence generated from a source outside the company.

Olivier Langlet

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