The European Court of Human Rights has held that a Spanish employer’s decision to install hidden video cameras to monitor suspected thefts by a number of supermarket cashiers violated the cashiers’ privacy rights under Article 8(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
The employer had installed:
- several visible surveillance cameras aimed at detecting theft by customers, and
- several concealed cameras aimed at recording theft by employees.
Shortly afterwards, five employees were caught on video stealing items, and helping co-workers and customers steal items. The employees admitted involvement in the thefts and were dismissed. The employees pleaded that the use of the covert video evidence in the unfair dismissal proceedings had infringed their Article 8 privacy rights. Spanish courts determined that the dismissals were fair.
The European Court disagreed, upholding the employees’ claim finding that the Spanish courts had failed to strike a fair balance between the employees’ right to respect for their private life and the employer’s interest in protecting its property.
The majority found that the employer’s rights could have been safeguarded by other means, notably by informing the employees in advance of the installation of the surveillance system and providing them with the information required by Spanish data protection law (López Ribalda and others v Spain (Application nos. 1874/13 and 8567/13).)