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Monitoring of employees in the workplace (cameras)

Mr Antonín contacted us with a question about whether an employer can track or monitor employees at work with an industrial camera. On the one hand, one can understand that the employer is looking out for its own interests. On the other hand, there is the right to privacy of employees. So what are the rules? Can an employer monitor its employees, make a record of it and then use it against them, e.g. for the purpose of dismissal?

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Chapters of the article

The lapidary answer to the question of whether an employer may control its employees is yes, but in a very limited way.

TheLabour Code prohibits employers from monitoring employees “for preventive reasons”. Employees can only be subjected to such practices if:

  1. there is serious reason to doubt the employee’s work performance; and
  2. the employee is informed of this.

However, the above does not apply in the case of certain specific activities where, on the contrary, monitoring needs to be carried out. The Labour Code states that there must be a “compelling reason based on the specific nature of the employer’s activity” Typically, this will be the case in operations such as securities printers, nuclear plants, chemical plants, banks, etc., where, for reasons of safety or damage prevention, monitoring of employees must be carried out continuously.

Serious reasons

The law provides that an employer must not, without compelling reasons based on the special nature of his activity, invade the privacy of an employee, not only in the workplace but also in public areas. For example, by subjecting the worker to overt or covert surveillance.

If you believe you have a genuine reason to monitor your employees, your reason to achieve a particular objective, such as ensuring security, must be stronger than the employee’s right to privacy. The use of cameras is only justified if it is the most effective way to achieve your goal and there are no other, less invasive methods. For example, instead of cameras, you can track attendance with smart cards or have managers monitor team activity.

Protecting assets is not automatically a reason to justify surveillance either. However, if it were a workplace where, for example, theft is frequent, it may be possible to monitor certain areas. However, it is necessary to report this to the Data Protection Authority and to actually monitor the target (security of property), not to circumvent the rules on employee privacy.

Performance monitoring

However, checking employee performance or compliance with technological procedures via cameras is not excluded either. Again, there must be compelling reasons for doing so. For example, in a chemical plant, security is more important than privacy, and an employee’s progress in the laboratory must be monitored. Here, recording can also be used. However, the same does not apply in an office or gym. Monitoring should definitely not be secret and employees must be informed.

As a matter of principle, you should avoid placing cameras in areas where employees take a break, such as alleys, canteens or relaxation areas. Even if you would like to address theft or damage to property, the invasion of employee privacy is often too great compared to the value of the property lost or damaged.

You will also need to be wary of the use of fake cameras. These can cause undue stress on employees and can be considered a breach of the employer’s duty to provide a safe and healthy work environment for employees.

Tip:Employment law is regulated by a number of legal provisions, but the Labour Code is its “bible”. It regulates both the basic principles and also very specific provisions describing the creation of the employment relationship and the circumstances of its duration. You will also find out what your employer must provide for you and what you are entitled to as an employee. We have therefore selected the five parts of the Labour Code that are most frequently asked about and that are worth knowing.

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How to proceed?

We have advised Mr Antonín to formally report his objections to his employer. If the employer does not accept the objections and continues the monitoring, it would be possible to contact the Labour Inspectorate or the Office for Personal Data Protection. Such unauthorised handling of personal data is punishable by fines of up to 100,000 euros. Moreover, evidence taken illegally cannot stand up, for example, in a dispute over the validity of an employee’s testimony “recorded” by such a camera.

Tip: The fact that cameras are pointed at us on the streets, in the doorways of large companies or in the entrances of apartment buildings is slowly becoming a common reality that we count on. But more and more people are installing cameras in their homes. What is driving them to do this and what does the law say? And what about the use of recordings in private in general? We have addressed this in a separate article.

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Author of the article

JUDr. Ondřej Preuss, Ph.D.

Ondřej is the attorney who came up with the idea of providing legal services online. He's been earning his living through legal services for more than 10 years. He especially likes to help clients who may have given up hope in solving their legal issues at work, for example with real estate transfers or copyright licenses.

Education
  • Law, Ph.D, Pf UK in Prague
  • Law, L’université Nancy-II, Nancy
  • Law, Master’s degree (Mgr.), Pf UK in Prague
  • International Territorial Studies (Bc.), FSV UK in Prague

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