The fairness of the dismissal is upheld since it is supported by other evidence. However, the Spanish State was ordered to compensate the dismissed cashiers for a violation of their fundamental right to privacy due to the lack of information regarding the hidden cameras.
Judgment delivered by the European Court of Human Rights on 9 January 2018 [case López Ribalda and others]
In the present case, the validity of the evidence obtained by video surveillance cameras installed in a supermarket store where the employees worked in order to investigate robberies that had been occurring in the establishment is up for debate.
Upon noticing numerous imbalances in the store, the company installed visible cameras and hidden cameras at each till, informing the workers only of the former.
Some workers were recorded stealing along with other workers and acting in collusion with clients. The company shared the facts discovered to the workers in a private meeting with the trade union representative. In the meeting, the workers recognized their wrongdoing and were therefore ultimately dismissed for disciplinary reasons.
Because of the meeting, the company and the workers reached an agreement where on the one hand, the workers admitted their participation in the robbery and agreed not to submit any claims challenging the dismissal and, on the other hand, the company agreed to not initiate criminal proceedings against them. Nevertheless, the workers submitted a claim challenging the dismissal, being declared fair in the first instance and confirmed in the appeal. Due to said facts and the non-admission of the appeals submitted before the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court, the workers turned to the European Court of Human Rights to declare the violation of Article 8 –right to a private and family life– and Article 6.1 –right to a fair or equitable trial– of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR).
In effect, the workers considered, on the one hand, that recording via the hidden cameras without prior communication had violated their right to privacy and therefore they could not be accepted as valid evidence. On the other hand, the workers considered that the agreements they had reached with the company in the presence of the trade union representative would not be valid because they were concluded under duress.
In accordance with the foregoing, the European Court of Human Rights concluded the following:
i. indeed, there has been a violation of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights –right to a private and family life–, since the Spanish data protection legislation requires the employer to exhaustively inform workers before the placement of the cameras.
ii. with respect to the allegations of Article 6.1 of the European Convention on Human Rights –right to a fair trial– the Court declares that there has been no infringement, since not only have the plaintiffs been able to judicially challenge the validity of the recordings, but the judicial decisions were based on additional evidence to said recordings, as in the testimony of the cashiers, guaranteeing the grounds for dismissal.
iii. finally, it concludes that the settlements or agreements reached between the workers and the company were not subscribed under duress.