Unfair dismissal claim questions reach of Sarbanes-Oxley

The international implications of Sarbanes-Oxley were being examined last week as two former employees of the Swatch Group claimed for unfair dismissal under ‘whistleblower’ protection provisions.

Although Joseph Ede and Matthieu Phanthala’s complaint has been thrown out by the US Department of Labor, it raises questions over the jurisdictional reach of Sarbanes-Oxley.

Ede and Phanthala alleged that the Swiss-headquarted Swatch Group was committing tax fraud. After raising the issue with their superiors, Ede was dismissed and Phanthala resigned from the company.

Under Section 806 of Sarbanes-Oxley, staff cannot be fired for reporting financial wrongdoing, but as Swatch only trades over the counter in the US, and neither Ede nor Phanthala worked there, the Department of Labor said that the case did not come under US jurisdiction.

New York firm Kaiser Saurborn & Mair, representing Ede and Phanthala, are planning an appeal.

Partner Henry Saurborn said: “If [international companies] want to have a serious presence here, they’re going to have to seriously consider upgrading their compliance streams.”

In the UK, whistleblowers are protected by the Public Disclosure Act 1998, but employees must have worked in the UK for the act to apply.