Judgement of the ECHR on the use of hidden cameras in the workplace

On 9 January 2018, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) delivered a judgment on a case involving a supermarket in Spain which used both visible cameras to monitor customer behavior and hidden surveillance to detect possible cases of theft by employees. The judgment holds that hidden video surveillance by employers is in violation of employee rights which are protected under art. 34 of the European Convention on Human Rights. 

Five employees made applications against the Kingdom of Spain in relation to hidden camera footage. First, on 29 December 2012, an application was made by a female employee, followed by an application by four employees, submitted on 23 January 2013. In court, the complainants were represented by attorney Gonzales Espada and the Spanish government – by state attorney Leon Cavero. 

Camera footage and employee dismissal 

The employees were only notified of the installation of visible video surveillance. Hidden cameras were used to make recordings of product theft by several employees. In some cases, theft was committed by employees helping customers. 

The employees who were caught on camera stealing goods were dismissed. 

At a hearing before a Spanish tribunal, the latter delivered a judgment that held employee dismissal fair.

The circumstances of the case 

In their applications, the complainants argued that the use of covert video surveillance by their employer, without having given prior warning, violates their right to privacy as protected under art. 8 of the Convention. 

They also argued that under art. 6 of the Convention, the instigation of legal proceedings before domestic courts renders the proceedings unfair due to the admission of evidence of video footage as the main evidence justifying their dismissal. 

Three of the plaintiffs instituted separate court proceedings: they argued that the domestic courts ruled their dismissal fair based on settlement agreements signed by the plaintiffs under duress. This violated their right to a fair trial under art. 6 of the Convention. 

The first plaintiff also argued that the judgment is based on evidence that insufficiently demonstrates her involvement. 

The plaintiffs’ applications were combined by ECHR in a single action based on the legal and factual situation. 

Judgment by ECHR 

The European Court of Human Rights delivered a judgment holding that covert video surveillance of the plaintiffs by their employer constitutes a violation of their right to privacy. 

Concerning the violation of art. 8 of the Convention, ECHR holds the judgment adequately reasoned on grounds that everyone has right to privacy. Violations of this right are only admissible for crime prevention and for the protection of the health and morals of citizens.  

The application made is not contrary to art. 35 § 3 (a) of the Convention.

By six votes to one, the Court holds that there has been a violation of art. 8 of the Convention. 

By four votes to one, the Court holds that the defendant is to pay compensation for non-material damage to the plaintiffs. 

The judgment is available here

For the protection of employee rights in similar cases involving the imposition of penalties and dismissal based on covert camera recordings without employees being given prior notification, contact Stoeva, Tchompalov & Ziepolski law firm.