Court of Cassation: Does harassment of a colleague outside of the workplace constitute grounds for dismissal?

27 February 2024
Thanks to Marta Sponza for collaborating on this article

The Italian Supreme Court ruled that harassment outside of the workplace can be grounds for dismissal.[1]


A bank employee and team leader was dismissed for cause by their employer for engaging in harassment of two female colleagues outside of the workplace and for implementing multiple unjustified logins into the bank’s computer system to collect information about clients and colleagues over the previous two years.

A court of appeals found that the evidence was comprehensive and adequate to support the charges of harassment because the behavior damaged the relationship of trust between the parties, and that there was no need for a finding involving the second charge related to the logins. The worker appealed the dismissal, but the motions filed were denied. The employee then appealed the case before the Court of Cassation, claiming that there were no grounds for dismissal because the employee’s actions toward the female colleagues fell outside of the scope of employment.

Court of Cassation decision

The Court of Cassation stated that conduct can be considered workplace harassment even if it occurs outside of the workplace. Specifically, Italy’s highest court noted that an employee must refrain from engaging not only in expressly prohibited conduct, but in any conduct inconsistent with obligations associated with participation in the structure and organization of the enterprise.

The judge found the judgement of the court of appeals reasoned, well-considered, and based on evidentiary thinking and therefore upheld it.

The Court of Cassation took pains to make a distinction between (i) “harassment at work” that consists of behavior with the direct effect of violation of worker dignity and (ii) “sexual harassment” that consists of unwanted behavior with sexual connotations. In this case, the behavior was considered harassment due to the undesirable nature of the conduct, even though physical aggression was absent. It also cited ILO Convention No. 190 that established the first internationally recognized definition of work-related violence and harassment. This definition is “a range of unacceptable behaviors and practices… likely to result in physical, psychological, sexual, or economic harm” and “applies to all sectors, whether private or public, both in the formal and informal economy, and whether in urban or rural areas.”

As a consequence, the employer is released from the burden of proving breach of fiduciary duty when this is clear as a reflection of the relationship between employer and employee. In the case in question, the employee, despite holding the role of team leader, demonstrated indifference to restrictions and rules about the management of relationships outside the workplace.

This confirms that conduct outside of the workplace may have repercussions on the employment relationship.

[1] With decision No. 35066 of December 14, 2023.

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