international employment law firm alliance L&E Global

Spain: Video surveillance through hidden cameras on employees violates the right to privacy

The employees were working as cashiers in a supermarket branch. When the company detected irregularities, proceeded to install CCTV (video surveillance cameras). A first group of those cameras were visible and a second group was hidden and located in the cash registers. The company warn employees on the visible cameras’ installation, but not about the hidden ones. The works council was not informed neither.

Those hidden cameras captured several employees arrogating many products without paying them, and helping, as well, other colleagues and customers obtaining products without paying. The company met the employees involved and proceeded to a disciplinary dismissal. At the meeting, the company offered them the following agreement: in exchange for their resignation to initiate criminal proceedings, employees would be committed not to challenge the dismissal. All those employees judicially claimed the dismissal, which was confirmed both at first instance and by the Supreme Court. The video recorded by the CCTV was admitted as a proof, understanding it was obtained legally.

The dismissed employees appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), as they had considered that the use of these recordings violates the right to privacy stated at clause number 8 of the ECHR law.

Regarding the infringement of the right of privacy, the ECHR stated that, although the measure adopted by the company was reasonable, since it was launched after detecting losses in the company, and it was supported by a suspicion, the installation of hidden CCTV cameras was not proportional and it did not respect the provisions of Spanish legislation (LOPD, clause 5), which obliges companies with facilities provided with video surveillance systems, to inform in advance all employees at the work place, explicitly and precisely on the hidden cameras.

This is the reason because the ECHR concludes that the Spanish courts did not judge adequately balancing between the right of the complainants to their private life, and the employer’s interest to protect its assets. It means the measure was not proportional, as the recording by hidden cameras is not legitimate without informing employees in advance.