This is evident from a decision of the court of The Hague that was made public yesterday.
The 55-year-old woman worked 20 hours a week at funeral home DELA. One day in October 2021, she performed two cremations with an assistant. According to the protocol, both employees must check whether the remains of the previous cremation have been cleared before the new import.
After the second cremation, there were still ashes of the first deceased in the ash funnel. As a result, the ashes of the two deceased were mixed up.
DELA informed the families of the deceased about the incident and commissioned an investigation. Because the employee had not checked the ashes funnel before the second cremation, she received an official warning and a low annual assessment.
In the weeks that followed, the employee began to protest against those measures. She acknowledged having made a mistake, but also pointed to the assistant’s responsibility and the inadequate procedures and technique. The woman felt victimized and disproportionately punished. At the end of that month she reported sick.
DELA urged the employee to let the matter rest, but she did the opposite. Thus, the relationship between the employee and the donor became increasingly unpleasant. The woman eventually accused the funeral organization of a ‘cover-up culture, in which a culture of fear, intimidation and abuse of power play an important role’.
DELA, in turn, thought that the employee, her partner and her lawyer had gone on a collision course. After talks and external mediation failed, the funeral organization offered the woman a severance payment of 20,000 euros in May 2022, but she did not agree. According to her, the incident had caused her trauma and burnout, and the proposal was insufficient.
DELA finally went to court in July 2022 to have the employment contract dissolved. According to the employer, this was the result of her mistake during the cremation, her exaggerated reaction to the reprimand and a disturbed employment relationship. The employer did not want to pay the woman a penny more in severance payments.
According to the woman, DELA was not allowed to fire her because she was said to have been confused during her work due to an earlier incident in which bone remains from a previous cremation had not been cleared away.
In the event that the employment contract were to be terminated, she demanded a transition payment of around 7,500 euros, continued payment during the notice period, a number of other compensations and compensation for wrongful dismissal of 200,000 euros.
A judgment made public today shows that the subdistrict court of The Hague has given DELA permission to fire the woman.
In the first place, the judge finds that DELA rightly gave the woman an official warning, because she had made mistakes during the cremations. The fact that her colleague may have also made mistakes, or that the procedures and technology leave something to be desired does not detract from this.
Nevertheless, according to the subdistrict court judge, the woman’s mistakes and her exaggerated reaction to the reprimand are not good reasons to put her on the street. However, the disturbed employment relationship is. “The incident has become an irreconcilable conflict in which mutual trust has disappeared.”
The ruling contains strong criticism of the behavior of both the employer and the employee, which led to ‘totally disrupted relationships’. For example, the subdistrict court emphasized that DELA failed to do so, for example by not responding to the employee’s justified points of criticism.
On the other hand, the judge notes that the woman did nothing to de-escalate the situation. The subdistrict court judge even suspects that the woman, her partner and her lawyer ‘may have magnified the conflict in order to enforce a high compensation’. Another factor was that they threatened to publicize the incidents involving ash mixing.
Not 200,000 euros
In the end, the subdistrict court concluded that neither the employee nor the employer had engaged in ‘seriously culpable’ behaviour.
This means that the employee is entitled to continued payment of salary during the notice period of three months, and a transition payment of 7,500 euros. However, DELA does not have to pay her the severance payment of 200,000 euros and other compensation.
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