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Defamation via Whatsapp justifies termination without notice

The topic of WhatsApp and the legal consequences of careless messages has often been a topic here on the blog. The Baden-Württemberg Regional Labor Court has now issued another interesting ruling.

If an employee then spreads an inaccurate allegation via WhatsApp to another colleague which is capable of significantly damaging the reputation of a colleague (here: the inaccurate allegation that the colleague had been convicted of rape), this may constitute grounds which also entitle the employer to terminate the employment relationship for cause.

Among other things, she wrote:

I don’t know if it’s true, but he’s supposed to be is said to be a convicted rapist, so all of L. wants nothing more to do with him.

“He” is an employee of Defendant and the father of Defendant’s CEO.

What is interesting in the case is whether a message on “WhatsApp” is public in the criminal law sense. The court on this:

Compared to simple insults, defamation is only punishable by a higher penalty in cases where the offender commits it publicly or by distributing writings. But when considered in the abstract, it is the offense with the higher content of injustice […]: compared to the unsubstantiated value judgment (e.g., being called an “idiot”), the statement of fact made to a third party carries more weight as a motivated judgment. The value judgment depends in its suggestive power on the prestige of the perpetrator. Facts, on the other hand, speak for themselves. Therefore, it is more suitable than the value judgment or the expression of opinion to take the recipient of the announcement against the person concerned. In the interest of effective protection of honor, the law in Section 186 of the Criminal Code threatens a defamatory statement of fact with punishment not only if it is untrue, but already if it is “not demonstrably true.”

The plaintiff spread the objectively incorrect claim via WhatsApp that Mr. R. S. was a convicted rapist. This allegation constitutes a defamatory statement, which is also likely to disparage the person concerned in the public opinion. The plaintiff was aware that the allegation was one that was defamatory. This is already evident from her wording “and that is why all of L. wants nothing more to do with him,” the entire course of the chat conversation, and from her decision to no longer want to work for the defendant because of this circumstance.

For dissemination, it is sufficient to pass on a factual assertion to third parties as the subject of third-party knowledge or assertion. In contrast to asserting, it is not necessary for the perpetrator to adopt the third-party factual assertion as his own. For the dissemination it is sufficient if he passes on the foreign assertion only to another person, this also if this happens confidentially. Also the passing on in a 2er Chat fulfills thereby the offence of the spreading in the sense of § 186 StGB.

 

Marian Härtel

Marian Härtel

Marian Härtel is a lawyer and entrepreneur specializing in copyright law, competition law and IT/IP law, with a focus on games, esports, media and blockchain.

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