The Court of Venezia, in its ruling no. 494/2021, stated that a company that suffered a cyber-attack and was forced to pay a ransom to recover stolen data can fire an employee who has repeatedly surfed on unsafe sites for private purposes and put internal security at risk.
Facts of the case
The worker employed by a company operating as a shipping agency was dismissed for just cause, following a legitimate disciplinary procedure, for having improperly used a company personal computer.
The charges brought by the company against the employee were twofold:
- having carried out activities outside of work during working hours, consulting personal e-mail, viewing photos and repeatedly and prolonged surfing on the internet on information websites, booking travel and shows and even on pornographic websites. This was in breach of Company Regulations, jeopardising the security of the computer system and taking time away from work (even on days when he had requested authorisation to work overtime);
- having prepared and transmitted to third parties statements in the company's name by misusing the company's letterhead and stamp during working hours.
The employee challenged the company's termination because it was retaliatory and discriminatory, with the sole aim of ousting him as a union representative (RSA) and therefore considered an "inconvenient employee." The employee claimed that the misconduct was not attributable to him since the computer assigned to him did not have a password and any person could have accessed it.
The employer took legal action, rejecting the employee's claims and emphasising the entirely causal nature of the discovery of the data since it emerged as a result of the necessary checks carried out following a hacking of its computer systems and the spread of the ransomware virus.
The Court's decision
The Court of Venice – confirming the decision of the Judge in the summary stage of the proceedings – declared that there was just cause for termination and, consequently, the dismissal was lawful.
The Judge pointed out that the allegations against the employee had been acquired by the company under art. 4 of the Workers' Statute. Under the above Article, the employer may legitimately acquire information from the company tools assigned to employees and use them for all purposes related to the employment relationship (including disciplinary purposes). This is on the condition that employees have been given adequate information on how to use such tools and control methods, under the Privacy Code. The company had adopted a Regulation on the use of the tools provided. Since its adoption, it had been posted on the notice board and published in a folder on the server accessible to all employees.
The Judge observed that even without considering the actual adoption of the regulation (which is the subject of censure by the employee), what mattered was the numerous and perpetual use for obvious (and not disputed) personal purposes of the computer, such that the disciplinary value of the facts existed.
Finally, the Judge rejected the employee's complaint about the failure to place a personal password on the computer. According to the Judge, its improper use was undoubtedly attributable to the employee in question since he had: visited his account, booked trips in his name, used personal USB keys, visited social networks linked to him, etc.
In the Court's opinion, the charges brought against the employee and legitimately acquired by the company became actual and were so severe as to justify his immediate dismissal.
Originally Published 30 September 2021
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