Dutch court says forcing employees to turn on webcams is a human rights violation

  • The case involves a Florida-based company called Chetu Inc., which hired a telemarketer in the Netherlands. 
  • The employee refused to turn on his webcam to allow employees to track him.
  • He was awarded €75 000 following a ruling from the Dutch courts.

Webcams in the pandemic era became a crucial piece of technology, as videoconferencing surged in recent years as people could not interact in-person.

While most instances saw webcams used to facilitate communication, in more nefarious cases they were used to track and monitor employees who were working remotely.

According to a recent ruling by a court in the Netherlands, such practices are a violation of human rights. This as a man was recently awarded €75 000 after he refused to turn on his webcam when asked to do so by his employers.

The company in this case is Chetu Inc., which is based in Florida in the United States. Chetu Inc. hired said man to work remotely as a telemarketer, but he reportedly grew increasingly frustrated with the fact that the company was monitoring his activity via the webcam for nine hours a day.

“He worked for the American firm for over a year and a half, but on 23 August he was ordered to take part in a virtual training period called a ‘Corrective Action Program.’ He was told that during the period he would have to remain logged in for the entire workday with screen-sharing turned on and his webcam activated,” according to the NL Times.

“I don’t feel comfortable being monitored for 9 hours a day by a camera. This is an invasion of my privacy and makes me feel really uncomfortable. That’s the reason why my camera isn’t on. You can already monitor all activities on my laptop and I am sharing my screen,” the worker replied to his employers two days after receiving the above notification.

He was then fired on 26th August, with the reason for his being let go categorised as insubordination.

Following his firing, the employee brought the case to the Zeeland-West Brabant court in Tilburg.

Here the court sided with the employee, noting that, “The employer has not made it clear enough about the reasons for the dismissal. Moreover, there has been no evidence of a refusal to work, nor was there a reasonable instruction. Instruction to leave the camera on is contrary to the employee’s right to respect for his private life.”

Deeming the behaviour and instruction of Chetu Inc. to be a human rights violation, the court added that, “video surveillance of an employee in the workplace, be it covert or not, must be considered as a considerable intrusion into the employee’s private life.”

With remote or hybrid working here to stay, it would not surprise us if incidents like this continue and more employees are forced to turn on their webcams. The question, however, remains just how enforceable it is in countries like South Africa.

[Image – Photo by Compare Fibre on Unsplash]


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