Dismissals on grounds of alleged disloyalty were unlawful

Three ambulance drivers in Sweden were wrongfully dismissed when their employer fired them for having criticised the company to the authorities and in the media, theLabour Court ruled in May 1997.

On 7 May 1997 the Labour Court gave its judgment in a case that has attracted much attention. It concerned three ambulance drivers, two men and one woman, who had been dismissed on the grounds of disloyalty to their employer, a private company that runs the ambulance service in parts of southern Stockholm on contract.

The three drivers had criticised the company's safety routines in a letter to the authority that supervises the contractor's operations, alleging among other items that the ambulances and the medical equipment were in such a bad state that it constituted a threat to the patients' security. The same information was sent to their trade union magazine. Other media picked up the story and the employer suffered a substantial loss of goodwill.

The judgment (AD 57/97) deals with the balance between the employees' duty of loyalty to the employer and their freedom of expression. The Labour Court states that the duty of loyalty requires that the employees refrain from activities that can cause damage to the employer, and that they must express any criticism they may have to the employer's representatives in the first place.

In this case, the employees' criticism regarding the condition of the vehicles and the medical equipment was partly exaggerated, and their actions had indeed caused their employer damage. However, on every occasion they had tried to express their points of view to their employer, but it had been very difficult for them to get in contact with responsible representatives for the company, and when they did they were often treated with disrespect. Consequently they felt that the employer was unwilling to solve the problems that, in their view, existed. The fact that they informed the supervising authority could thus not constitute an objective ground for dismissing them.

Neither could their contacts with the press. They could not foresee that the article in the trade union magazine would create such a stir. Therefore the dismissals were unfounded. The two men received SEK 60,000 damages each. The woman, who according to the Labour Court was herself partly responsible for the bad relations with the company management, was awarded only SEK 30,000.

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