Good will counts – not always! Labour Court of Siegburg: Misuse of customer data is a compelling reason for termination without reason

An IT employee is obliged to protect sensitive customer data and must not misuse it for other purposes, according to the Labour Court of Siegburg, see ruling of January 15th, 2020 – 3 Ca 1793/19.

In the case, the employer, a provider of IT security concepts, gave extraordinary and immediate notice of termination to an employee employed by him as an IT specialist. The employee had ordered headache pills for two board members of a customer of his employer from the computer of a casino. For the purpose of payment by direct debit, he had previously downloaded the names, addresses and bank details of the customer’s contractual partners from an encrypted computer onto a private memory stick. Along with the order, the employee informed the management board of this customer that the order would enable them to see how easy it is to misuse data, which should cause them headaches, and that the headache pills ordered could help. The plaintiff had not informed his employer beforehand about the existing security gaps in the customer.

The Labour Court of Siegburg dismissed the action for dismissal protection and ruled that the extraordinary dismissal without notice was justified. By his conduct, the employee blatantly infringed his duty to take account of the interests of his employer. The customer data in question was sensitive and therefore worthy of protection. The employee had misused his access option and exploited a security gap at the customer’s premises. The fact that the employee was supposedly concerned with uncovering security gaps in the customer is irrelevant. This was because the employee had lastingly disturbed the customer’s trust in his employer and his staff and thus massively endangered the customer relationship. This justifies an extraordinary termination without notice.

When weighing up the interests involved, which must always be done in the case of (extraordinary) ordinary termination, among other things the extent of the damaged trust must be taken into account. If the violation of the (secondary) obligations under the employment contract constitutes such a serious breach of trust that the employer cannot reasonably be expected to continue the employment relationship even up to the expiry of the regular period of notice, this is a significant indication that the employer’s interest in termination prevails.

Katharina Schlonsak                           Dr. Lorenz Mitterer
Lawyer                                        Lawyer / Partner
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