In a precedential decision, the Olsztyn District Court ruled in 2021 that an employee’s concealment of information on travel abroad during the pandemic is a reason justifying his immediate, disciplinary dismissal.
The court analyzed the circumstances of the case where an employer, in the wake of the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, demanded information regarding foreign travel from employees who returned from a foreign journey to let the company take appropriate measures in order to protect the rest of the staff. One of the employees concealed a foreign journey in March 2020 (during the initial stage of the pandemic), claiming that the employer was not entitled to such information.
The employer claimed, however, that by his conduct the employee committed a serious breach of basic duties, namely by: (i) breaching the rules of community life, (ii) non-complying with the employer’s instruction and giving false information about the journey, and (iii) breaching the obligation to care for the welfare of others in the workplace. In the employer’s view, the employee’s lies resulted in the total loss of trust in him, which ultimately led to the immediate termination of employment (the so-called disciplinary procedure).
This case highlights the issue of the employer’s fulfillment of the obligation to care for the health and life of employees in light of limited possibilities that the employer has in practice, e.g. without being able to effectively enforce a duty to inform the company about matters affecting the health and life of other employees.
The court found that the employer was acting within the law by requiring employees to provide information about their foreign journeys, and that in such situation an employee’s right to privacy may not override the protection of a collective interest such as the health of all employees.
The practical fulfilment of the employer’s obligation to ensure the occupational health and safety of the workforce touches on the issues of privacy and the protection of special categories of personal data (such as information on vaccination status).
Employers often face the task of resolving colliding interests that are subject to legal protection. The Olsztyn District Court judgment indicates that similar rulings in employers’ favor are possible in other situations where the right to protect personal data is a conflicting interest.