An employer has the right to transfer an employee in order to restore a peaceful work environment, if continued conflicts between a superior and an employee make successful cooperation impossible.
An employee was working as a cook in a nursing home run by the church welfare organization Diakonisches Werk. Her employment contact did not specify the location of her workplace.
During her period of employment, she and the kitchen manager got into several disputes. The most recent dispute happened over the recycling of leftover potatoes and the overproduction of mustard sauce. The day after that dispute, the employee called in sick and has been sick ever since.
As a result, the employer initiated the transfer of the employee to another kitchen in another location a few weeks later. Due to the longer distance, the employee’s commute to work now took 50 minutes by car instead of 20 minutes, which it had taken before.
To justify his decision, the employer brought up the fact that the working atmosphere in the previous workplace of the employee was very tense. The relationship between her and the rest of the employees—in particular the relationship between her and the kitchen manager—was so disrupted that they could no longer work together successfully. Additionally, both the kitchen manager and the rest of the staff had they did not wish to continue working with the employee and hence they requested her transfer.
The employee objected to the transfer because of the significantly longer commute to work.
Ruling of the court:
The court ruled the transfer of the employee effective, despite the longer commute to work.
In order to resolve the existing tense situation, to prevent future conflicts and to restore a peaceful work environment, the employer has a legitimate reason for the transfer. Considering the situation and the fact that the employee was already sick as a result, the employer not only had an interest but a duty to intervene.
The court deemed it reasonable for the employee to work in a kitchen that is farther away. All things considered, the disadvantages associated with the transfer are limited. 50 minutes commute are still considered reasonable in terms of average expenditure of time people spend to commute to work. And while there is stress associated with starting work at a new workplace due to different work processes and new colleagues, that effect generally only lasts for a few days. In this case, the advantages of working in a non-conflict environment which would possibly have a positive impact on the employee’s health clearly outweigh the disadvantages resulting from the longer commute and new workplace.
The court therefore ruled in favor of the employer and decided that the decision to transfer the employee neither violates the right to instruct nor the employee’s employment contract.
With its decision, the court reaffirmed that the employer’s right to instruct may be used to resolve internal conflicts. If there is sufficient cause and if the measure is a reasonable solution to help resolving a conflict, the employer is deemed to have a legitimate interest in taking this measure. Settling existing conflicts or avoiding emerging conflicts is one of the employer’s responsibilities to ensure a smooth workflow and a productive work environment in the company. However, it is important to note that such a transfer is only possible if the employment contract does not specify a workplace location. If a workplace location is specified in the employment contract, a notice of dismissal on the grounds of changed working conditions may need to be given.