Summary dismissal due to unauthorised use of company mobile phone

According to the Danish Supreme Court's judgment of 17 March 2016, an employer's summary dismissal of an employee was justified due to the employee's use of his company mobile phone for the purchase of train tickets by means of an app, after which the expense was paid over the phone bill.

The case involved an employee who - by virtue of his position as system developer - had been provided with a company mobile phone. Apart from work-related use, the employee also used the company mobile phone to buy train tickets for private purposes. Over a 5-month period, he had bought tickets for an amount of approx. DKK 1,300. The employee was of the opinion that due to being subject to an annual multimedia tax of DKK 3,000 for the company mobile phone, he was allowed to make purchases for an annual amount of up to DKK 3,000.

At the Danish High Court, it was undisputed that the employee had bought private train tickets by means of his company mobile phone. The question remained whether the employee could reasonably assume that the employer had accepted this, provided the annual expenses did not exceed DKK 3,000.

Initially, the High Court had regard to the fact that the employer's staff manual did not provide any guidelines with regard to the private purposes for which the use of a company mobile would be allowed, neither were there any internal instructions in this respect.

In spite of this, the High Court found that the employee ought to have realised that the use the company mobile phone for the payment of purely private expenses required the employer's explicit consent. In this respect, the High Court attached importance to the fact that the employee - according to his own statement - did not inform the employer about the purchase of the train tickets and neither did he keep any records of the amounts the employer had to pay in this connection.

The employee's pleading of his own interpretation of the rules for multimedia taxation did not lead to another result either, considering that the employee could not have a protected expectation that his conduct towards the employer would be justified. Finally, the High Court had regard to the fact that the employee had not received any information from the employer that seemed to indicate a different situation. Thus, the summary dismissal of the employee was justified considering that in this specific case a material breach of the employment relationship had been committed.

The Danish Supreme Court reached the same conclusion as the High Court.

The judgment shows that without the explicit consent from the employer, employees are, naturally, not allowed to use the employer's money for private purposes, also if the amounts involved are insignificant.

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