The European Court of Human Rights (“ECHR”) overturned Greek’s highest court last week when they ruled that an employer’s dismissal of an HIV-positive employee was contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights. In its decision in I.B. v. Greece, the ECHR said that the termination violated Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) and Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination).
The applicant was an employee of a small Greek company who was fired after it became known within the company that he was HIV-positive. Once word got out, several of the employees petitioned management to release the applicant. Despite the employer bringing in an occupational-health doctor to speak with the employees, the employees continued to press for his termination. After about half of the employees sent a letter to the director, the applicant was terminated.
The both of the lower Greek courts had ruled in favor of the employee, reasoning that the termination was unjustified largely because it was based on misinformation about the contagiousness of HIV. In both of the decisions, however, the courts failed to reinstate the applicant with his job, because he had found work in the meantime. The applicant continued to appeal and the case was taken up by the Court of Cassation, Greek’s highest court. The Court reasoned that the termination was justified where it was based on the employer’s interest in restoring harmonious collaboration and was done to keep the company running smoothly.
Since Greece is a member state of the Council of Europe, the applicant was able to take his complaint to the ECHR. The ECHR reasoned that the Court of Cassation did not adequately weigh the interest of the applicant-employee against the interests of the employer. The ECHR seemingly did not dispute that the employer had an interest in harmonious relations amongst workers — although it was critical of the inaccurate scientific basis behind such concern — but said that, even so, the company’s interest had to be weighed against the interests of the employee, taking into account that the employee was the weaker party to the employment contract.
Do you agree with the ECHR? Does the employer have a legitimate interest in wanting to maintain harmony? Is it fair to require a company to keep one employee at the risk of losing half of their workforce, or was this a case of groupthink leading to empty threats and court-approved bullying? Which party do you think would prevail in a US court?
Sources: The European Court of Human Rights
Photo Source: The Eddystone Trust