Webcam surveillance of Florida business violates human rights, Dutch court rules

A Florida-based software development company called Chetu provided a perfect example of how an employer in 2022 can take worker monitoring one step too far. Describing an order issued last week, a Dutch court document (translated with Google Translate) explained that the Florida company was wrong to punish a distant Dutch telemarketer for turning off his webcam – and that firing him for doing so was actually violating the human of the employee. rights.

After the employee (whose name is redacted in the court document) repeatedly refused to turn on his webcam in August, the company abruptly terminated his employment via an email explaining the dismissal decision in less than 10 words. Chetu apparently cited the Dutch civil code in support of his decision, writing to the employee: “Your employment is hereby terminated. Reason: Refusal to work; Insubordination.”

However, last week the Dutch court finally disagreed with Chetu’s reading of Dutch law, ruling that not turning on a webcam is not a refusal to work or insubordination. Instead, the employee was rightly and reasonably defending his right to privacy. This is protected by the European Convention on Human Rights, according to the court order, which quotes: “Video surveillance of an employee in the workplace, whether concealed or not, shall be regarded as a significant intrusion into the employee’s privacy”.

Chetu did not immediately respond to Ars’ request for comment.

Pandemic triggers explosion in remote worker monitoring

This verdict can be considered a victory for any remote worker, anywhere, who has ever balked when asked by their boss to set a record and submit to extended surveillance.

As remote work has become a default mode for many employees around the world during the pandemic, employers have started exploring new ways to monitor employee productivity. Demand for employee monitoring technology jumped 58%, Top10VPN reported. This, researchers based in Canada and Spain reported at the National Library of Medicine, was only part of “an unprecedented explosion of COVID-19-induced digital surveillance” that “reconfigured relationships of power in professional circles”. Current laws, especially in the European Union, were unprepared to deal with such “excessive oversight” and data-driven management, the researchers warned.

At least, it seems, in the Netherlands remote workers can now expect to be protected from invalid webcam requests all day long. Following the wrongful termination verdict, the court ordered Chetu to withdraw a non-competition clause that limited the former worker’s new employment options. Chetu also had to pay a $50,000 fine, as well as the employee’s back pay, unused vacation and court costs.

TechCrunch reported that in Florida, where Chetu is based, there are employment-at-will laws that cover Chetu so that the company can terminate any Florida-based employee for a reason that does not violate labor laws. The email that caused the Dutch-based employee to be fired suggests that the company tried to consult the Dutch civil code before making its dismissal decision, but apparently did not think to check it. which is protected by law under the European Convention on Human Rights.

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