WhatsApp group insults grounds for firing, German court says – DW – 08/24/2023

Germany’s Federal Labor Court ruled against an employee who had been dismissed for posting insults about his boss with coworkers on a private WhatsApp group. 

The man who brought up the case was an employee of the airline TUIfly who was part of a WhatsApp group that consisted of a group of friends and two brothers who worked for the company.

Officials said that “blatant insults” were shared, where they insulted each other, along with people who were not in the chat group.

Judges ruled that the right to secrecy only applies in exceptional cases, not when it comes to insulting or racist remarks. When those comments become public, firms can indeed fire the employees for the offense.

It was the first time that Germany’s top labor court ruled on the subject of whether a small chat group is a protected space for private and confidential exchanges.

‘Inhumane’ insults and dismissals

For years, the members of the WhatsApp group are said to have shared insulting, racist, inhumane and sexist statements and calls for violence, which included discussions about “punching people in the face.”

When part of their chat history was leaked to the workers council and human resources manager, the company responded by firing the employees.

The case went to a lower court, which ruled in favor of the group, saying they were entitled to the right to secrecy or confidentiality in their communications.

But the number of members in the chat matters, the top labor court said, along with the content. Judges ruled that given the size of the group and the fact that the insulting remarks included inhumane statements, the defendant could not expect the right to privacy.

As such, the defendant will be required to provide additional proof for why the communications should have been protected and confidential speech despite being in a large group setting when the case is reheard at the lower court. 

jcg/sms (dpa, German Federal Court)

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