Czech Republic: Constitutional Court reviewed the legitimacy of dismissal from employment due to criticism of the employer
Once more, the Constitutional Court has had to deal with the issue of whether it is lawful to terminate an employee on grounds of their criticism of the employer.
In the dispute at hand, the complainant, who had worked as a town hall official, had criticized her superiors (i.e., the mayor and other members of the town leadership) in the local weekly. More specifically, she had accused them of bullying and harassment, and of being responsible for the town’s poor crisis readiness.
After voicing this criticism, the complainant was given notice on grounds of a serious breach of statutory duties. In the view of the employer, the complainant had been guilty of this breach of her duties when she engaged in activities which undermined the credibility of a “self-governing unit” (i.e., the town).
The complainant challenged the termination in court, seeking the nullification of her dismissal from employment. The first-instance court dismissed her claim, and this decision was also upheld by the court of appeals. Eventually, the complainant filed a constitutional complaint.
The Constitutional Court arrived at the conclusion that the constitutionally protected rights of the complainant had not been infringed, and that the dismissal from employment was in this respect lawful and proper.
The Constitutional Court justified this conclusion by referring to its earlier case law, according to which any assessment of individual statements (of criticism) must differentiate between allegations of fact and value judgments. This is because the criteria for whether a statement is allowable are different for each of these categories. Only value judgments are protected by the presumption of fair criticism, whereas allegations of fact are not: the critic must prove them to be true.
It follows from the decision of the Constitutional Court that criticism of one’s superiors can indeed constitute grounds for dismissal from employment – if the critical allegations are found to be baseless. In such a case, the employee cannot hide behind freedom of speech.