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Business can't make staff submit to video surveillance, says court

Chetu ordered to pay restitution for employee's unlawful termination

A telephone sales rep in the Netherlands has won an unfair dismissal court case against his former employer, US software company Chetu, after he was fired for refusing to spend his work day surveilled by his computer camera.

In August of 2022, the employee was required to log on during an entire workday while sharing his screen and being monitored by camera and attending an online training program.

"I don't feel comfortable being monitored for nine hours a day by a camera," the un-named defendant is recorded as saying in a court filing. "This is an invasion of my privacy and makes me feel really uncomfortable. That is the reason why my camera is not on. You can already monitor all activities on my laptop and I am sharing my screen," the employee added.

The Diessen, Netherlands resident then received two more emails stating the company's demands for surveillance, as well as an argument stating that camera surveillance is no different than physical presence in an office.

Chetu eventually received the following notification:

Hi [name of applicant], Your employment is hereby terminated. Reason: Refusal to work; Insubordination.

The Court of Zeeland West-Brabant determined [PDF] that not only was there no evidence of refusal to work, but instructing an employee to leave their camera on all day was a privacy violation. The court cited a November 28 ruling in the European Court of Human Rights that stated video surveillance of an employee in the workplace, covert or not, was a "considerable intrusion into the employee's private life."

"Camera surveillance for nine hours a day is disproportionate and not allowed in the Netherlands," declared the court, which decided there was no question that the employee was working as software installed on his computer monitored his output.

As to the argument that surveillance was no different than actual physical presence, the court established one important difference in the two scenarios: the processing and potential storage of data, which would be subject to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Data storage requirements and labor laws in the Netherlands are very different from those at Chetu's headquarters in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Like most US states, both workers and employers in Florida can end employment contracts without advance notification, for any reason.

Chetu was ordered to pay restitution of $48,660 – $2,600 in unpaid salary, $8,150 for wrongful termination, $9,245 in worker transition assistance, the equivalent of 23 days vacation pay, eight percent statutory holiday allowance, court fees, and late payment fees. The inside sales representative grossed over $68,000 annually with the company prior to getting sacked.

Chetu dissolved and deregistered its Dutch branch within days of firing the employee. According to the court, the company was aware of the case but did not lodge a statement of defense or appear at the hearing.

The US company's website currently lists ten US locations, one in the UK and three in India.

The Register has asked Chetu to comment on the case, and whether it requires video surveillance of workers in its US or offshore operations. We will update this story if we receive a substantive response. ®

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