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The Spanish Supermarket and Secret CCTV Surveillance

A Spanish supermarket suspected that some employees were stealing from their tills so they installed secret CCTV cameras to try and catch the suspects in the act. They caught five cashiers stealing money, who were subsequently dismissed. Despite the dismissals being procedurally fair, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) held that this covert surveillance breached the employees' right to privacy and the individuals—who were also found guilty of theft—were awarded 4000 euros in damages. The ECHR held that the Spanish courts had failed to strike a fair balance the employee's right to privacy and the employer's legitimate interest in safeguarding its business.


The decision highlights the need for employers to properly consider the impact that surveillance in the workplace will have on an individual's right to privacy. They should always choose the least intrusive method of infringing on privacy even where they have a genuine reason for doing so. With the GDPR coming into force in May of this year, employers should conduct impact assessments if they are considering any kind of employee monitoring.

ICO Guidance

The ICO guidance makes clear that secret surveillance is rarely likely to be justified, and if it is considered necessary, the surveillance should be for as limited a period as possible and affect as few people as possible. Tailored and considered data protection policies will be vital in justifying any form of employee monitoring be it CCTV, interception of emails or otherwise. So to avoid having to pay out for privacy breaches, be sure to carry out a privacy impact assessment as your first step.

©2020 Katten Muchin Rosenman LLPNational Law Review, Volume VIII, Number 40


About this Author

Christopher Hitchins, Katten Muchin London UK, investment documentation attorney, labor disputes management lawyer

Christopher Hitchins focuses his practice on the full range of employment law issues, acting for employers or senior individuals in a wide range of sectors, with a particular focus on the financial services, technology, hotel, retail and media industries.

Chris advises on all contentious and non-contentious UK employment law matters. He has significant experience advising on senior executive employment, partnership and investment documentation, managing disputes and exits as well as team moves, advising businesses on restructurings involving the...

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Bridgitte Weaver, Katten Law Firm, London, Labor and Employment Litigation Attorney

Brigitte is an employment lawyer who focuses on a broad range of contentious and non-contentious employment matters, acting for both employers and individuals. Brigitte’s contentious experience covers both Employment Tribunal claims and High Court litigation, including unfair dismissal, discrimination claims and breach of contract. Her non-contentious experience covers a variety of advisory matters, as well as corporate support work and advising on TUPE.