Press Release No: Individual Application 64/23

Press Release concerning the Judgment Finding a Violation of the Right to Respect for Private Life and Freedom of Expression Due to the Termination of Employment Contract

On 14 June 2023, the Plenary of the Constitutional Court found violations of the right to respect for private life and freedom of expression, respectively safeguarded by Articles 20 and 26 of the Constitution, in the individual application lodged by Ayhan Deniz and Others (no. 2019/10975).

The Facts

 At the material time, the applicants were employed in a company, and inquiry reports were prepared on the basis of their social media posts. As a result of these inquiry reports, their employment contracts were terminated pursuant to the decisions of the Disciplinary Board of the company in question. The applicants brought separate declaratory actions, seeking their re-employment against the impugned decisions, which were dismissed by the labour court on the grounds that the applicants’ case was terminated with a just reason. Upon the appellate request of applicants, the regional court of appeal annulled the first instance decisions, expressing that the case should have been rejected on the grounds that the termination was based on valid reasons rather than a just reason, and accordingly ordered the issuance of a fresh decision. The appeals against the impugned decisions were rejected by the Court of Cassation, which ultimately upheld them.

The Applicants’ Allegations

The applicants maintained that their right to respect for private life and freedom of expression had been violated due to the termination of their employment contracts as a result of their social media posts.

The Court’s Assessment

In the present case, in the impugned social media posts, the applicants in general targeted at politicians, the government, administrative authorities wielding public power, as well as at their political and administrative conducts. The opinions expressed by the applicants in their statements did not relate to the private sphere of the relevant persons’ lives, which is not accessible to other individuals. The issues raised in social media posts were of public interest, and the framework of conversations that had a profound impact on society remained primarily in the political realm. In this regard, the processes in which important public debates take place are closely monitored by the applicants as voters and citizens, and the applicants expressed their opinions on social media platforms, which have become one of the most common and popular means of exercising freedom of expression on the Internet. Therefore, the courts failed to strike a balance of interests in the present case, where the fundamental rights and freedoms of the applicants were in conflict with the company’s interests being prejudiced by the attacks on the prestige and reputation of certain state officials.

Besides, it was not alleged that the posts in question were shared during working hours or through the use of company resources or at the workplace and that the applicants were therefore unable to fulfil their obligations under the employment contract. Nor did the courts establish that the posts concerned had any relevance to the applicants’ profession, workplace or employer.

Upon comprehensive consideration of all relevant aspects, it has been concluded that the incumbent courts did not examine sufficiently and comprehensively the nature of the disputed content and the context in which it had been used, as well as the possible repercussions of the posts in question, in considering the applicants’ actions in question to fall within the framework of legitimate reasons arising from the employee’s conduct under Labour Act no. 4857. The courts failed to provide relevant and sufficient grounds for concluding that “the mutual trust between the applicants and the employer had been impaired” and that “the posts had fostered a negative climate in the workplace” when posts on current affairs and ongoing social debates were used as grounds for terminating the employment contracts.

Additionally, it has been observed that the inferior courts that ruled on the case had not exercised due diligence in respect of the constitutional safeguards on freedom of expression, that the State had not fulfilled its obligations with regard to the protection of constitutional safeguards, and that Article 18 of Law no. 4857 had been subjected to a broad interpretation and used as a basis for indirectly restricting the freedom of expression.

Consequently, the Court has found violations of the right to respect for private life and freedom of expression.

This press release prepared by the General Secretariat intends to inform the public and has no binding effect.