9 June 2023

A damaged working relationship

By Seliz Demirci

It can happen in the best of organisations: an employee and a manager cannot get along. Tensions in the workplace can escalate quickly, negatively affecting the working atmosphere within the department.

In such cases, the employee and manager often blame each other and it is difficult to determine who is most at fault. There is no straightforward solution in such cases.

The law states that a damaged working relationship is grounds for dismissal. The damage must then be so serious and lasting that the employer cannot be required to continue the employment relationship.

But when is this the case? The general rule is elaborated further in case law, as recently occurred in a case before the Amsterdam Court. The case concerned an employee who had been employed as a production planner since 2019. When he was assigned a new manager in 2021, conflict soon followed. The employee felt that the manager controlled him too much and bothered him unnecessarily. In turn, the manager found that the employee refused to follow instructions and showed no self-reflection. Meanwhile, other employees complained about the negative atmosphere in the workplace. They expressed their complaints about the employee, who they said demonstrated childish behaviour by refusing to communicate with his manager.

Trust

The employee then called in sick for work. According to the company doctor, the illness was largely work-related. The company doctor recommended a meeting with the employer to resolve the conflict. Only then would the employee be able to return to work, the company doctor reported. Meanwhile, the employee had stated several times that he no longer had confidence in his employer. The employer and the employee then entered into a mediation process, which also failed to yield a solution. After the mediation, the employer initiated legal proceedings to terminate the employee’s contract. According to the employer, there was now a damaged working relationship. The Court agreed with the employer’s position that the employment relationship was damaged. The relationship had deteriorated to such an extent that despite several attempts, the parties had been unable to find a solution.

In its ruling, the Court took into account that a mediation process had been completed without any solution being reached, and that the employee had stated that he had lost trust in the employer. This gave no hope for fruitful future cooperation between the parties. The conditions for a damaged employment relationship were thus met, namely the existence of a serious and lasting disruption. The employment contract was terminated, with the employee taking home a transitional compensation payment.

Amsterdam Court, 22 September 2022, Case no: 9993559 EA VERZ 22-413

Early discussions with a mediator

In case law, a damaged employment relationship is not easily accepted. For this to apply, it must be demonstrated that the working relationship is seriously and permanently damaged. This occurs when there is no prospect of fruitful cooperation in the future. It must be apparent that the employer has made efforts to improve cooperation, and  the employee must be open to constructive discussions with the employer. This may prove difficult for both parties, for instance because of mutual frustration.

Making an effort

Mediation can provide a solution. When a conflict is resolved at the mediation table, the employer and employee can continue working together on the basis of clear agreements. If mediation fails, at least the parties will have made an effort to find a solution. The ruling described above shows that the courts take this into account when deciding whether a working relationship is permanently damaged. A practical tip is therefore to consider structured conversations with a mediator at an early stage, with the primary scope of resolving the conflict, but also with a view to possible dismissal proceedings should mediation not be successful.

More information

Would you like to discuss a damaged working relationship or another legal question? Please do not hesitate to contact me directly.

Seliz Demirci

Seliz Demirci

Lawyer

Within the Employment & Pension law section, Seliz advises national and international employers and employees on various employment law issues.

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