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Case law: Employer's covert surveillance of employees breached their human rights

Organisations considering covert monitoring of staff should ensure they can show a fair balance between their rights and those of their staff, or risk breaching their employees' rights to privacy under human rights law.

February 2018

This update was published in Legal Alert - February 2018

Legal Alert is a monthly checklist from Atom Content Marketing highlighting new and pending laws, regulations, codes of practice and rulings that could have an impact on your business.

Please note: A newer article on this case was published in the December 2019 edition of Legal Alert following subsequent developments in the legal process.

A Spanish supermarket told workers about visible cameras it had installed, purportedly to detect theft by customers. However, it did not tell them about other, hidden cameras positioned to detect thefts by staff. Footage from the hidden cameras showed several employees thieving, and they were dismissed. They claimed the secret surveillance by their employer breached their right to privacy under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The European Court of Human Rights agreed. It rejected the employer's claim that its actions had been justified, appropriate, necessary and proportionate, and that there was no alternative and equally effective way to protect its rights that would have interfered with their rights less, and found that Article 8 had been breached.

It reasoned that camera surveillance in the workplace amounts to a significant intrusion into an employee's private life, and the employer had failed to show there was a fair balance between its rights and its employees' rights. The surveillance was not directed towards specific employees under suspicion but was based on a general suspicion of all staff; and it was not time-limited – it took place during all working hours and over many weeks.

Operative date

  • Now

Recommendation

  • Organisations considering covert monitoring of staff should ensure they can show a fair balance between their rights and those of their staff, or risk breaching their employees' rights to privacy under human rights law

Case law: Lopez Ribalda & Ors v Spain, ECtHR (Applications nos. 1874/13 and 8567/13)

Disclaimer: This article from Atom Content Marketing is for general guidance only, for businesses in the United Kingdom governed by the laws of England. Atom Content Marketing, expert contributors and ICAEW (as distributor) disclaim all liability for any errors or omissions.

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