Warning Letter Must Be Specific

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Judgment of the Düsseldorf Labor Court on the Effectiveness of a Warning Letter

In labor law, the warning letter is an important instrument to remind the employee of their contractual duties. Additionally, it can often be a prerequisite for termination. For a warning letter to be effective, it must meet certain conditions. This includes, among other things, the specificity of the content of the warning letter, as demonstrated by a ruling of the Düsseldorf Labor Court on January 12, 2024 (Case No.: 7 Ca 1347/23).

Before a conduct-related termination can be effectively issued in labor law, it is often necessary to warn the employee, alerting them to their misconduct and giving them the opportunity to change their behavior and fulfill their contractual obligations. General reprimands are not sufficient for an effective warning letter. Instead, it is necessary to detail the employee’s breach of duty, including the location, time, and the persons involved. If the warning letter lacks specificity, it can be invalid, according to the law firm MTR Legal Attorneys. This is also shown by the ruling of the Düsseldorf Labor Court from January 12, 2024.

Insult as a Reason for Warning

Typical reasons for a warning include insults and offensive remarks. In the case before the Düsseldorf Labor Court, a public service clerk was accused of making insulting remarks. Colleagues had confidentially reported this behavior to the superiors. The employer then issued a warning for breach of ancillary contractual duties. In a preceding personnel meeting, the clerk denied making the remarks. Additionally, the warning letter indicated that further misconduct could lead to more disciplinary actions, up to and including termination. Although the employer specified when and on what occasion the clerk allegedly made the defamatory remarks, the witnesses who made the allegations were not named.

The clerk contested the warning and sued for its removal from his personnel file.

Removal of Unjustified Warning from Personnel File

The lawsuit was successful. The warning must be removed from the personnel file, ruled the Düsseldorf Labor Court. It stated that employees are entitled to the removal of an unjustified warning from their personnel file.

Such a right to removal exists if the warning is vague, contains incorrect factual allegations, is based on an incorrect legal assessment of the employee’s behavior, or violates the principle of proportionality. Moreover, a warning must also be removed from the personnel file if it contains only general accusations instead of specifically described misconduct, the court further clarified.

Warning Must Meet Requirements

Based on these principles, the employer was obliged to remove the warning from the plaintiff’s personnel file because the warning was vague, according to the Düsseldorf Labor Court. The employees who reported the plaintiff’s alleged remarks to the superiors were not named in the warning, although they were undoubtedly known to the employer. Thus, the warning was not sufficiently specified, the court emphasized. Whether the plaintiff actually made the alleged remarks did not need to be clarified.

For the plaintiff, the naming of the witnesses was important to verify the accuracy of the warning. General accusations without naming the witnesses were not sufficient for this purpose. The employer could not claim witness protection either, even if naming them could lead to conflicts between them and the plaintiff. An employer who relies on witness statements must accept such a conflict, the Düsseldorf Labor Court further stated. Moreover, there was no indication that the witnesses faced a specific threat by having their names disclosed.

The ruling shows that a warning must meet various requirements to be effective.

MTR Legal Attorneys advise on warnings, terminations, and other labor law issues.


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