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Employee’s decision to resign due to work environment issues was provoked

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calendar 28 May 2020
globus Sweden

An employee who for a long time had a conflict with his manager and experienced bullying in the workplace one day resigned. The Labor Court found that the resignation was provoked and therefore had to be considered as if the company had terminated the employee. Since just cause for termination was lacking, the company was obliged to pay SEK 30,000 in damages to the employee.

An employee in the plumbing and heating industry, who had been employed by a company for about 13 years, one day resigned. In his resignation letter, the employee stated that his resignation was due to the current conflict with management and that he felt excluded. He also stated that his trade union had repeatedly pointed out that a “bullying investigation” should be started by the occupational health services, but that this had never been done.

The question in the case was whether the employee’s resignation was provoked by the company, or if it was voluntary. If a resignation can be considered as provoked, the situation shall, according to case law, be assessed as if the company had terminated the employee. If just cause for termination is lacking, the termination may be invalidated, and the employee may be entitled to damages.

When is a resignation considered provoked?

The conditions for a provoked resignation are that the company has made the employee resign, and that the company has acted contrary to good practice in the labor market or otherwise inappropriate.

There is comprehensive case law that illustrates what constitutes a provoked resignation. For example, the employee must generally endure criticism for how he performs his work, however provided that the company does not act aggressively. If the company is aware of that the employee is unwell or due to other personal circumstances is experiencing difficulties in defending his interests, this may indicate that the company is acting contrary to good practice in the labor market. 

It is not a requirement that the company intended to make the employee resign. It is therefore sufficient that the company realized that it was causing a difficult situation for the employee and, subsequently, a risk that the employee would resign.

The employee had been provoked to resign

In this case, the Labor Court found that there was a clear conflict between the employee and his manager. The conflict had escalated when the manager suspected that the employee had breached his duties under the employment. The suspicion ended up with a written warning being sent to the employee, without any previous meeting being held.

In the subsequent consultation, the employee’s trade union had, among other things, required that the company would manage the conflict and the assaults the employee experienced in the workplace. The Swedish Labor Court found that when the employee called in sick the day after the consultations, the company should have understood that this was due to mental illness related to the working environment. Despite this, the manager chose to e-mail the employee during his sick leave and accused the employee of having violated his duties on several points. Furthermore, she required answers within three days. At the same time, the company prevented the employee from accessing the time book he needed to face the accusations. The employee therefore replied that he could not face the claims. In response, the employee was notified of summary dismissal. However, the next day, he resigned.

In the light of the above, the Labor Court found that the employee’s resignation had been provoked by the company, which had acted contrary to good practice in the labor market. The company must have realized that its actions caused a difficult situation for the employee and a risk that he would resign. Since just cause for termination was lacking, the company was obliged to pay SEK 30,000 in damages.

IUNO’s opinion

The judgement shows, among other things, how important it is that companies try to solve problems in the working environment, such as conflicts and bullying, as the risk increases for a resignation from the employee to be considered as provoked by the company. The judgement also shows that companies should, as far as possible, avoid disturbing an employee on sick leave, especially if the sick leave can be assumed to be caused by a dysfunctional working environment.

IUNO recommends that companies try to solve any conflicts and other issues which create problems in the working environment. If the company finds that an employee has failed in his duties, it should carefully investigate whether the company has acted contrary to good practice in the labor market or otherwise inappropriate, before taking any measures against the employee.

[Labor Court Judgement no. 23/20]

An employee in the plumbing and heating industry, who had been employed by a company for about 13 years, one day resigned. In his resignation letter, the employee stated that his resignation was due to the current conflict with management and that he felt excluded. He also stated that his trade union had repeatedly pointed out that a “bullying investigation” should be started by the occupational health services, but that this had never been done.

The question in the case was whether the employee’s resignation was provoked by the company, or if it was voluntary. If a resignation can be considered as provoked, the situation shall, according to case law, be assessed as if the company had terminated the employee. If just cause for termination is lacking, the termination may be invalidated, and the employee may be entitled to damages.

When is a resignation considered provoked?

The conditions for a provoked resignation are that the company has made the employee resign, and that the company has acted contrary to good practice in the labor market or otherwise inappropriate.

There is comprehensive case law that illustrates what constitutes a provoked resignation. For example, the employee must generally endure criticism for how he performs his work, however provided that the company does not act aggressively. If the company is aware of that the employee is unwell or due to other personal circumstances is experiencing difficulties in defending his interests, this may indicate that the company is acting contrary to good practice in the labor market. 

It is not a requirement that the company intended to make the employee resign. It is therefore sufficient that the company realized that it was causing a difficult situation for the employee and, subsequently, a risk that the employee would resign.

The employee had been provoked to resign

In this case, the Labor Court found that there was a clear conflict between the employee and his manager. The conflict had escalated when the manager suspected that the employee had breached his duties under the employment. The suspicion ended up with a written warning being sent to the employee, without any previous meeting being held.

In the subsequent consultation, the employee’s trade union had, among other things, required that the company would manage the conflict and the assaults the employee experienced in the workplace. The Swedish Labor Court found that when the employee called in sick the day after the consultations, the company should have understood that this was due to mental illness related to the working environment. Despite this, the manager chose to e-mail the employee during his sick leave and accused the employee of having violated his duties on several points. Furthermore, she required answers within three days. At the same time, the company prevented the employee from accessing the time book he needed to face the accusations. The employee therefore replied that he could not face the claims. In response, the employee was notified of summary dismissal. However, the next day, he resigned.

In the light of the above, the Labor Court found that the employee’s resignation had been provoked by the company, which had acted contrary to good practice in the labor market. The company must have realized that its actions caused a difficult situation for the employee and a risk that he would resign. Since just cause for termination was lacking, the company was obliged to pay SEK 30,000 in damages.

IUNO’s opinion

The judgement shows, among other things, how important it is that companies try to solve problems in the working environment, such as conflicts and bullying, as the risk increases for a resignation from the employee to be considered as provoked by the company. The judgement also shows that companies should, as far as possible, avoid disturbing an employee on sick leave, especially if the sick leave can be assumed to be caused by a dysfunctional working environment.

IUNO recommends that companies try to solve any conflicts and other issues which create problems in the working environment. If the company finds that an employee has failed in his duties, it should carefully investigate whether the company has acted contrary to good practice in the labor market or otherwise inappropriate, before taking any measures against the employee.

[Labor Court Judgement no. 23/20]

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Anders

Etgen Reitz

Partner

Franziska

Brüggemann

Associate

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