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Subjecting workers to webcam monitoring violates privacy, Dutch court rules

A stock privacy image of an eye.
Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

A Florida-headquartered company has been ordered to pay about €75,000 (around $73,000) in compensation and other fees after firing a Netherlands-based remote worker who refused to keep their webcam on all day, NL Times reports. The company, Chetu, said the unnamed employee was required to attend a virtual classroom with their webcam turned on for the entire day and their screen remotely monitored.

But when the employee refused, saying that leaving their webcam on for “9 hours a day” made them feel uncomfortable and was an invasion of their privacy, the company dismissed them, citing “refusal to work” and “insubordination.”

In a decision published last week, the court ruled that these were not sufficient reasons to dismiss the employee. “There has been no evidence of a refusal to work,” the court’s decision reads (via Google Translate). It added that “instruction to leave the camera on is contrary to the employee’s right to respect for his private life” and that the dismissal was not legally valid.

Specifically, the court cites Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which grants citizens the “right to respect for private and family life.” Chetu argued that requiring an employee to leave their webcam on would be no different from management being able to see them while they’re working in a traditional office. But the court noted that “strict conditions are attached to observing employees,” and that asking an employee to leave their camera on in this case was an unjustified intrusion.

The court has ordered Chetu to pay its former employee a substantial sum in damages, NLTimes reports. This includes compensation of €50,000 (around $48,000), roughly €2,700 (around $2,600) in unpaid salary, and over €8,000 (around $7,750) for wrongful termination. The company also needs to pay the employee for their unused vacation days.

As TechCrunch notes, firing an employee for not turning their webcam on may be more palatable in an “at-will” jurisdiction like Florida, but it seems employees under the jurisdiction of the ECHR have a lot more protections.

A spokesperson for Chetu did not immediately respond to The Verge’s request for comment.

Source: The Verge

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