On September 5, the European Court of Human Rights issued a ruling in the case of Bărbulescu v. Romania that affirms employees’ right to privacy in the use of communications tools in the workplace. Although the ruling is strict, it aligns with the positions taken by the national courts of certain European Union Member States (e.g., Germany) and guidance issued by data protection authorities. And the criteria that the ECHR adopts for assessing the lawfulness of monitoring generally aligns with the requirements under the General Data Protection Regulation, which takes full effect on May 25, 2018. In our post, we summarize the ruling and identify key takeaways for companies that monitor workforce use of information systems and tools in the EU.
Part 11 of Future-Proofing Privacy: Data Protection in the Workplace. Modern technology offers advanced technical options to monitor employee performance and conduct. Even standard IT applications may be used to control or record personnel behaviour in the workplace. Where previously the degree of employee supervision was limited by what the technology could do, rapid technological advancements mean that data protection laws are now the principal limitation in the EU. The Regulation is due to play a major role in this respect. As a consequence, employee data privacy has been one of the most hotly debated aspects of the Regulation. This area of data privacy will remain less harmonised than other fields of data protection.
The German Federal Labor Court has published its reasoning underlying a June 2013 decision in which it declared invalid the dismissal by a large supermarket of an employee who was found in possession of stolen goods. According to the Court, the factual evidence leading to the dismissal—obtained upon inspection of the employee’s workplace locker without the presence of the employee—was gathered in violation of the employee’s right to privacy established by the German Federal Data Protection Act. The ruling represents a shift in case law regarding employee data privacy were German courts are likely to exclude from civil law proceedings information collected in violation of statutory data privacy requirements. Companies operating in Germany should be aware of these requirements in order to avoid losing lawsuits as a consequence of non-compliance with strict local data privacy rules.