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Dismissal on disciplinary grounds: The validity of disciplinary charges brought against an employee is not affected by any mistakes that may have been made by the employer in identifying the disciplinary offence the employee is alleged to have committed (Italian Supreme Court, Employment Law Section, judgment no. 24567/2011)

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The Employment Section of the Italian Supreme Court handed down the aforementioned decision with judgment no. 24567 filed on November 22, 2011.

The case at hand concerned an employee who had been caught on more than one occasion in a pizzeria during working hours and who had been, for this reason, dismissed by his employer.

The latter sent to the employee, within the term provided for under the law, a letter of reprimand setting out the circumstances that were considered by the employer to be disciplinary breaches.

The letter of reprimand contained, however, several errors of fact. The employer failed, in fact, to identify correctly the name and address of the pizzeria in question.

With a view to correcting such errors, the employer subsequently sent the employee a supplementary letter. The employee, however, immediately contested the supplementary letter, claiming that the employer had not observed the rules on disciplinary dismissals provided for under Italian law.

The Italian Supreme Court held that, in the case at hand, the rules on disciplinary dismissals had, instead, been observed, ruling that the purpose of letters of reprimand is to allow employees to immediately defend themselves.

It was sufficient, therefore, for the employer to indicate the necessary and essential facts upon which the allegations of disciplinary breach (or breach of the employees’ duty to act diligently and loyally) were based.

The Supreme Court judges upheld, therefore, the lower court’s ruling that the letter of reprimand – in recalling the verbal reprimand that had been made by the employee’s superior (as well as by the superior’s assistants) immediately after the occurrence of the facts in question (in the location where such facts were alleged to have taken place) – duly described (even though it contained some factual inaccuracies) the employee’s conduct.

The letter of reprimand, in recalling the employee’s attention to circumstances of which the latter was well aware, was held to have made perfectly clear to the latter the grounds upon which the disciplinary charges in question were being brought.

The Supreme Court judges held, therefore, that the supplementary letter did not harm in any way whatsoever the employee’s right to due process insofar as the new facts cited by the employer were not decisive for the purpose of correctly identifying and understanding the charges brought against the employee and did not, as such, change the disciplinary charges brought against the latter.

The supplementary letter merely provided clarifications on the aforementioned charges (it would have been deemed, instead, as bringing new disciplinary charges in the event that the employer had amended the essential facts upon which the allegation of disciplinary breach had been based).

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