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Marie Mandíková | March 12, 2024

Running of the subjective two-month period for termination of employment: conclusions of the Supreme Court

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The reasons, for which an employer may give notice to an employee under Section 52 of the Labour Code (i.e., grounds for notice), include a serious breach of an obligation arising from legal regulations relating to the work performed by the employee[1]. For this reason, however, an employer may only give notice to an employee within two months of the date, on which the employer became aware of the reason for termination, but no later than one year from the date, on which the reason arose.

The purpose of this provision is to protect the legal certainty of the parties to the employment relationship (specifically the party, with whom the employment relationship is being terminated). Therefore, if the two-month subjective (or one-year objective) period expires, the employer’s ability to unilaterally terminate the legal relationship ceases.

The subjective period begins to run from the moment, when the employer becomes aware of the facts constituting the grounds for termination. In practice, however, the determination of this moment may not always be entirely clear. The question of when the two-month subjective period begins to run in the case of notice given by the employer pursuant to Section 52(g) has recently been addressed by the Supreme Court in its judgment in Case No. 21 Cdo 1407/2022. Let us take a look at the court’s findings and legal opinion.

By letter dated 23 December 2016, which was delivered a week later, the employer gave notice of termination to its employee for serious misconduct. The employee used the employer’s means of work for activities unrelated to the performance of her work, both during and outside working hours. She did so without her employer’s permission and to the detriment of her job duties.

On 19 December 2016, the employer noticed the employee’s activities on social media (specifically Facebook), which led the employer to check the employee’s activities for the period from 20 September 2016 to 21 October 2016. On 6 December 2016, the Data Protection Officer consented to this inspection. The audit revealed that the employee visited non-work websites on her work computer on 73 counted occasions during a period of less than one month (from 20 September 2016 to 24 October 2016) .

On this she spent a minimum of 20.28 hours during her working hours, thereby violating both the obligation to use working hours and production means to perform the work entrusted to her and the prohibition on using the employer’s production and working means, including computer equipment, for her personal use.

However, the employee filed a lawsuit in court seeking a declaration that the termination was invalid because it was late. She argued that “all of the alleged breaches of employment duties occurred more than two months before the notice was given”. The District Court dismissed the action and the Municipal Court in Prague upheld the conclusions of the first instance court. The case then went to the Supreme Court.

The Court of Appeal reiterated the conclusions of previous case law, i.e. that the subjective time limit “does not begin to run on the basis of the assumption that the reason for the termination of the employment relationship occurs, or on the basis of the assumption that the employer could or even must have known about the breach of work discipline on a certain date.”

Although the employer does not have to know for certain the reason for the termination of the employment relationship, the employer must obtain knowledge of the employee’s conduct that fulfils this reason. It is not sufficient for the two-month period to commence, if the employer merely suspects that the employee has committed the relevant conduct. In this case, therefore, the employer may have believed that there was a reason for termination, but could not have actually known about that reason. He only became aware of it after an inspection had been performed, the results of which led to the discovery of facts justifying the termination of the employment.

The findings of the Supreme Court are a confirmation of existing case law and also serve as a clear interpretive guide for determining the running of the subjective time limit for termination of employment under Section 58 of the Labour Code. The consistency of the interpretation of this provision is particularly important from the point of view of its purpose – as we described at the beginning, the determination of time limits for termination of the employment relationship in Section 58 serves primarily to protect the legal certainty of the parties to the employment relationship.

[1] Section 52(g) of Act No. 262/2006, the Labour Code