EU: Covert Surveillance at Work Prohibited

By Claire Maclean © Dentons January 19, 2018
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EU: Covert Surveillance at Work Prohibited

​The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) found on Jan. 9 that the covert surveillance of an employee at his or her workplace is a considerable intrusion into his or her private life. Such surveillance entails a recorded and reproducible documentation of a person's conduct at his or her workplace, which he or she, being obliged under the employment contract to perform the work in that place, cannot evade.

The five employees in the case of López Ribalda and others v. Spain were cashiers working for a Spanish family-owned supermarket chain. In 2009, their employer noticed stock level irregularities and took steps to install both visible and covert surveillance cameras in the supermarket. The visible cameras were aimed at customers and trained on the entrance and exit to the store and the covert cameras were aimed at employees and trained on checkouts. Workers were not notified of the covert cameras and the five employees were dismissed for their involvement in theft or facilitating thefts shortly after the cameras were installed.

The employees challenged their dismissals before the Spanish courts, arguing that the use of covert video surveillance in the workplace without prior notice was unlawful. These challenges were unsuccessful so they raised proceedings before the ECHR alleging that the covert video surveillance violated their right to privacy protected by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The court held that the installation of the covert cameras had not complied with the Spanish legislation on data protection. The Spanish Data Protection Agency had issued an instruction clarifying that anyone using video surveillance had to place a distinctive sign indicating the areas that were under surveillance.

In these circumstances, the court found there had been a violation of Article 8 and awarded 4,000 euros ($4,893) each.

Claire Maclean is an attorney with Dentons in Edinburgh, Scotland. © 2018 Dentons. All rights reserved. Reposted with permission of Lexology.

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