_When a phone call can lose you your job!

When a phone call can lose you your job!
Sharon Reilly and Marilena Cartabia


The Italian Court of Cassation recently upheld as lawful, the dismissal of an employee who made several calls to friends and relatives, on company time and using the company telephone.

The employee attempted to justify himself by arguing that because he was depressed and bullied at work, he needed to hear friendly voices at times in the working day when he was feeling at his lowest.

However, this behaviour was considered by the Court as flying in the face of the principles of correctness and good faith. Instead of using the company telephone to alleviate his alleged pain and suffering, he should have gone to see a doctor.

According to the judge, the employee, even in his depressed state of mind, should have realized that what he was doing was contrary to the duty of loyalty towards his employer. Thus, the dismissal was upheld as fair, given the breach of the principles of correctness and good faith, added to the misuse of the company work tools, i.e. the telephone.

In fact, the same principle was applied in an earlier judgement of the Court of Cassation regarding a case of alleged demotion, where an employee was absent from work, without reason, because the employer had allegedly demoted him in the previous two months.
In this case the Court ruled that the employee’s behaviour was contrary to the duty to follow orders and instructions from the employer. The ensuing dismissal for unjustified absences from work was found to be lawful and fair.

In both these cases, the judges commented that an employee cannot refuse to carry out his job, as this is contrary to the duty to take instructions and follow orders. However, if the employee believes himself to have been demoted, then the remedy is to ask the court (even by way of an emergency injunction) to enforce his rights, not to absent himself from work without good reason.

Both Rulings clearly show that an employee cannot take justice into his own hands, even where there is an alleged wrongdoing on the part of the employer. In short, an employee has to choose a remedy that conforms to the principles of honesty and good faith.