Employment Law Speed Read – 22/01/18
22nd January, 2018
This week we look at how installing hidden surveillance cameras without informing employees was a breach of their right to a private life.
Lopez Ribalda and others v Spain
In the recent case of Lopez Ribalda and others v Spain the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled that installing hidden surveillance cameras without informing employees was a breach of Article 8 of the convention, the right to a private life.
A Spanish supermarket chain suspected its employees and customers of theft because of a discrepancy between stock levels and actual sales, which amounted to thousands of euros a month.
As a result, the employer put in surveillance cameras to watch for possible thefts. Some of the cameras were hidden with the intention of identifying if employees were helping customers steal or stealing themselves. The employees were not informed about the hidden cameras.
Five employees were identified on the hidden cameras as stealing and were subsequently dismissed.
The employees brought proceedings against their employer for unfair dismissal on the basis that the employer had breached their Article 8 rights and had additionally infringed their Article 6(1) right: the right to a fair hearing.
The domestic courts ruled that the employees’ dismissal was fair as the measure was justified, appropriate, necessary and proportionate.
European Court of Human Rights
The Court ruled that the covert surveillance had amounted to a breach of Article 8. The hidden cameras were monitoring all employees indefinitely and the company’s property could have been safeguarded by other means, notably by informing the employee’s of there presence.
However, the Court found no breach of their Article 6 rights, as the covert surveillance had not infringed their right to a fair trial. The Court took the view that there was other evidence such as witness statements of co-workers which implicated the employees and there was no evidence to show that the employees had been denied their defence rights. Consequently, the Court found that the use of the covert footage did not conflict with the employee’s Article 6 rights.
The Court awarded damages in the amount of €4,000 for non-pecuniary loss to each employee. The Court made no award for loss of earnings as there was no casual link between the employer’s violations and the compensation sought.
This case demonstrates the risk to employers if they seek to install covert security cameras. In other cases, surveillance has been permissible where it was specifically targeted at certain employees and its use was confined, controlled and time-limited. However, the case also highlights that although it may be a breach of an employee’s privacy to install covert cameras, an employer is not disallowed from using this evidence in the internal dismissal process.
If you have any questions on the above and how it will affect you, please do not hesitate to get in touch with a member of our employment team.