Love affair with work colleague: the dismissal is justified

Prepared by Francesca Daniela Tironi, Alessia Sveva Spadoni and Sara Tanieli

The Court seated in Rome, Second Employment Section, by the ruling in the trial identified by 22884/2021 R.G.A.C., confirmed the lawfulness of the dismissal communicated by a company to one of its employees for having the latter been engaged in a love affair with a colleague without reporting this circumstance to the employer, as stated in company policy and code of ethics in force.

The facts under examination

By a communication dated May 11th, 2021, an employee of a company located in Rome was dismissed for “just cause”, following a disciplinary proceeding initiated by letter dated April 26th, 2021 by which the employer alleged that:

  • the employee had been engaged, from February to July 2020, in a love affair with a colleague from the same work group, both assigned to the same client, without reporting this circumstance to the employer, as stated in the company policy and code of ethics in force.

In particular:

  1. the company policy did not per se prohibited a love affair between colleagues or the hiring of persons bound by a kinship bond, but, “to ensure that close personal relationships and kinship relationships do not create situations in which members of Staff benefit or suffer because of a personal or kinship relationship in or out the workplace; issues of confidentiality, independence and conflicts of interest, even if only perceived, arise; real and/or perceived nepotism and/or favoritism results”, provided that “persons with close family or personal relationships with each other may not be assigned to the same client or engagement”;
  2. the code of ethics provided, inter alia, that employees “are required to avoid all situations and activities in which a conflict with the interests of the Company may arise […]”;
  • the employee had persuaded the colleague, by putting her in a state of psychological subjection, not to report her pregnancy to her employer (on the contrary, inviting her to terminate it), so as not to hinder her career advancement, and had persuaded her to resign and to be hired by a competitor company.

The above-mentioned circumstances had been learnt by the employer through a report by the same colleague with whom the dismissed employee had the love affair. She – in application of the provisions on so-called ‘whistleblowing’ – had shown the Company the whatsapp messages proving the relationship itself and the psychological pressure exerted on her by the employee who was subsequently dismissed.

Reasons grounding the decision of the Court

The Court seated in Rome confirmed the lawfulness of the dismissal communicated by the Company to the employee. In this regard, the Court stated mainly the following:

  • the fact alleged against the employee existed both in its materiality and in its disciplinary relevance, given that, from the company policy and the code of ethics made known to all the staff through various means (posting on company premises, signing for acknowledgement upon hiring and publication on the company’s website), it clearly emerged that love affairs between colleagues have to be reported, so that the employer would take the necessary measures to ensure the peace of mind in the office (i.e. the assignment of employees bound by a love affair in different work teams);
  • the dismissal was proportionate with respect to the contested fact, because the employee had breached the principles of fairness and good faith that must govern the employment relationship by “voluntarily […] putting  his own personal interest in career advancement before the interests of the Company […], concealing a situation of potential conflict of interest in violation of the duty of disclosure and compromising the quietness in the workplace“, also because he seriously pressed his colleague in such a way “as to undermine the bond of trust” with the employer.

In this regard, it should be reminded that, pursuant to Article 2087 of the Italian Civil Code, the employer must ensure that no conduct detrimental to the psycho-physical health of its employees is carried out in the workplace, by adopting all the necessary measures to ensure a peaceful workplace.

Let’s Talk

For a deeper discussion, please contact:

Francesca Tironi

PwC TLS Avvocati e Commercialisti