Companies Can Monitor Employees with Video-Surveillance Cameras without Employees' Consent
In its recent judgment dated 31 January 2017, the Supreme Court availed itself of the doctrine previously established by the Constitutional Court (judgment of 3 March 2016) and ruled that companies could monitor their employees by using surveillance cameras, without requiring the companies to state the specific objective of said surveillance or to obtain prior consent from the employees for the surveillance.
In the specific case in question, the employee had been working for the company as a shop assistant. The workplace had a surveillance system installed for security purposes and the employees were aware of it; however, they had not been told what the images would be used for nor that the images could be used against them.
The company notified the employee of his disciplinary dismissal via letter, in which it stated he had breached contractual good faith, was disloyal, and had abused the company's trust, in his improper use of the cash register (manipulation of sales receipts and monetary theft).
In both courts (first instance and appeal) the dismissal was deemed unfair due to a lack/unvalidity of evidence. Particularly, given that the company had not informed the employee previously about the purpose or objective of installing the cameras, the courts deemed that reproducing the images violated the employee's rights to privacy (art. 18.1 Spanish Constitution) and his right to personal data protection (art. 18.4 Spanish Constitution). Consequently, the courts dismissed the images as evidence to justify the dismissal.
However, the Supreme Court ruled otherwise, deeming the evidence obtained from the video-surveillance cameras to be completely valid. Its conclusion was based on three main arguments:
- If an employment relationship exists between the parties, it is not necessary to obtain either individual or collective consent from the employees to adopt measures that monitor employee activity.
- The company fulfilled its information obligation because it had hung signs warning of the cameras' existence.
- The company had notified the employees that a system of video-surveillance had been installed for the purpose of security. In the opinion of the Supreme Court, said concept included monitoring for illegal employee acts. However, it would exclude monitoring employees for other purposes, such as checking to see if employees are being effective, absent from work or chatting with their workmates, because those activities do not affect the store's security.