Early this year, the European Court on Human Rights found that an employer was in breach of the right to privacy due to covert surveillance at work.
In this case (Lopez Ribalda & Ors v Spain), a supermarket installed surveillance cameras to address suspected theft at work. The workers were told about the visible cameras, but not the others which had been placed covertly. Several employees were then dismissed on the back of the employer relying upon on images caught by the covert cameras. The employees brought a case against their employer for alleged breach of privacy.
The European Court on Human Rights agreed with the employees that their rights to privacy had been violated. The court commented that video surveillance in the workplace is a considerable intrusion into private life commenting that it extends to personal appearance.
Employers need to be very careful to ensure compliance with data protection laws and employees must be “explicitly, precisely and unambiguously” informed of the existence of a personal data file, how data will be processed, the purpose for collection and the recipients of the data. Without this, employers risk legal action from their staff.
In the UK, guidance published by the Information Commissioner’s Office states that it will be rare for covert monitoring of employees to be justified and that it should only be done in exceptional circumstances, for example as part of a specific investigation into suspected criminal activity. It is therefore essential that employers make a considered and realistic assessment of whether prejudice to employee’s rights of privacy is likely.
If you require further advice on this subject, or any other area of HR, Employment Law and Health and Safety, please do not hesitate to contact a member of our team who will be more than happy to help.