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06. Social Media and Data Privacy in Türkiye
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06. Social Media and Data Privacy in Türkiye

Restrictions in the Workplace

Employer can restrict the private use of internet and/or social media during working hours over the workplace internet. The employer may limit the internet provided by the workplace to be used for business purposes, as well as block access to social media sites and/or certain sites.

Can the employer monitor, access, review the employee’s electronic communications?

When the privacy legislation and precedent cases are considered, for the inspection on employee e-mails to be legal;

1. the employer must have a legitimate interest in monitoring communication by considering whether such interest can be pursued by only monitoring the flow of the communication or monitoring the content of the communication is compulsory,

Employer’s legitimate interest is essential for the surveillance of employee communication. Legitimate interest is assessed for each individual case by taking into account the characteristics of the workplace and the job the employee performs. In the Constitutional Court’s decision no. 2018/31036, as the purpose of the e-mail surveillance was to ensure the business to run effectively in the workplace which provides financial services with a large number of employees, legitimate interest of the employer was recognized. The same approach was also adopted in Constitutional Court’s decision no. 2016/13010, and although the surveillance was found lawful as the employee was not informed beforehand, the legitimate interest of the employer was recognized in surveillance of employee communication in order to ensure effective conduct of business.

In this regard, it would be fair to state that employers have a legitimate interest in monitoring email conversations during internal investigations or inspections to ensure that business is conducted effectively and that laws and regulations as well as company policies are followed. As a personal data processing activity, the employer must base its processing on one of the conditions under Article 5 of the DP Law as well as comply with the principles under Article 4. In case the employer bases its processing on the legal basis of legitimate interest, a balance test should be conducted with the legitimate interest of the employer as data controller and the fundamental rights of the employee as data subject. In order to process data based on this condition, the data controller must have a legitimate interest and the fundamental rights and freedoms of the data subject must not be damaged.

2. The inspection needs to be conducted in a transparent manner and the employees must be informed by the employer beforehand about the surveillance, its purposes, its legal grounds, its scope, its results, and employees’ rights. In Decision No. 2018/31036, the Constitutional Court requests that the following information be included in the privacy notices to be served on employees in order for the employer to examine their email correspondences and rely on the conclusions reached in a prospective termination:

    • Legal grounds and purposes of processing of personal data and inspection of communication,
    • Scope of processing of data and inspection,
    • Retention period of the data,
    • Rights of the data subject,
    • Results of processing and monitoring of data,
    • Potential beneficiaries of the data to be collected,
    • Limitations set out by employers regarding the use of communication tools.

For a lawful surveillance of employee e-mails, the employees must be informed that their e-mail communication beforehand. Otherwise, employees would have a rightful expectation of privacy Constitutional Court deems the provisions in an employment contract regarding employer’s right to monitor communication as a valid mean of information. Therefore, if the employment contract provides a provision regarding e-mail monitoring, the informing duty is deemed to be fulfilled. However, as surveillance of e-mail communication is a data processing activity, the employees must be informed according to the DP Law before the processing vie a specific privacy notice.

3. the intervention to the privacy of the employee must be convenient to accomplish the target of the surveillance,

4. the intervention must be compulsory for achieving the target by surveillance and the same results must not be able to be accomplished by other means which requires fewer personal data to be processed or require them to be processed less intensely,

The surveillance must be compulsory for the target to be achieved. This requires choosing the methods leading less data to be processed. If the same target can be achieved by less intense data processing, the surveillance would be unlawful, which would also violate the principle of proportionality under the DP Law. In the Constitutional Court’s decision no. 2016/13010, the surveillance was found to be unproportionate as the results could be achieved by less intrusive methods. The decision stated that the employer failed to justify why access to the applicant’s email exchanges was required. The decision made clear that the employer could not justify conducting an email surveillance as essential and necessary in this context because there were other methods available that could have served the same purpose, such as: (i) reviewing the parties’ complaints and defenses, (ii) hearing witnesses, (iii) analyzing workplace records, and (iv) Inspecting the processes and outcomes of projects.

5. the data to be collected must be limited by the purpose of the surveillance, no excessive data processing must take place,

The scope of surveillance must be limited to what is strictly necessary. Excessive data processing would render the surveillance unlawful. In the Constitutional Court’s decision no. 2018/31036, as the employer used only emails that indicating the applicant was engaged in commercial activities in order to support its claim, the surveillance was found to be limited to what is necessary. That said, In the Constitutional Court’s decision no. 2016/13010, it is stipulated that examination of the third party communication as well as the ones between the team members, the inspection was not limited to allegations in question. Thus, the employer did not limit itself to the email traffic data and had a broad breadth of access to the email contents.

6. the legitimate interest of the employer must be balanced with the employee’s fundamental rights and freedom.

Employee’s Use of Social Media to Disparage the Employer or Divulge Confidential Information

Such a sharing by the employee, in any case, concerns the disclosure of confidential information and personal rights if it directly targets an employee. In accordance with Article 25/II-b of the Employment Law, the employer can immediately terminate the employment agreement without having to pay severance, whether it is an agreement for definite or an indefinite period, before it expires or without having to comply with the notice periods, if the employee speaks or acts against the honour or reputation of the employer or a member of the employer’s family, or asserts or accuses the employer in matters affecting his honour with groundless accusations. Therefore, use of social media to disparage the employer can be a reason for immediate termination of the employment relation, if the employer duly finds out about such social media post before the employee deletes it.

Also, divulging confidential information is also regarded as a reason for immediate termination. Therefore, using social media for ths purpose would also be result in employment relation.

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