A Florida-based company was ordered to pay a remote worker $73,000 after firing him for refusing to turn on his webcam.
Chetu, a US software company, hired the employee to work remotely from the Netherlands. According to the NL Times, the company informed him on August 23 that he would need to keep his webcam turned on all day for a virtual training program.
According to court documents filed in the Netherlands, where the case was heard, the employee told Chetu he didn’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,” he told the company, according to the NL Times’ translation of the Dutch court documents. “That’s the reason why my camera isn’t on.”
The employee, who wasn’t named in the suit, said the company could already monitor his activities on his laptop, and noted that he also was sharing his screen.
According to the court documents, another Chetu employee stated that the requirement for employees to keep their webcams turned on was “no different” than how an employee would be seen by everyone all day in a physical office.
According to court documents, the virtual employee was fired three days later, on August 26, for “refusal to work” and “insubordination.”
The fired employee filed a lawsuit against Chetu in the Netherlands, where he was based, alleging that he was not given an “urgent reason” to “justify the immediate dismissal given,” and that the company’s demand that he keeps his webcam turned on was a violation of his privacy rights.
In its ruling last week, the Dutch court sided with the employee, saying the firing was “not legally valid.”
“The employer has not made the reasons for the dismissal clear enough,” the court said. “In addition, there is no evidence of a refusal to work, nor is there any reasonable instruction.”
Making an employee leave their camera on is a violation of the employee’s right to privacy, according to the court.
The court cited Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which states that “strict conditions are attached to employees observing.” It also cited a 2017 European Court of Human Rights ruling that “video surveillance of an employee in the workplace, whether covert or not, must be considered as a significant intrusion into the employee’s private life.”
According to TechCrunch, if the Dutch employee had been working in Florida or many other states in the US, the employee would have likely been subject to so-called right-to-work laws, which state that employees work “at will” — and can generally quit or be fired at any time, for most any reason, including the refusal to keep a webcam running at all times.
According to court documents, the Dutch court ruled that Chetu must pay the former employee €50,000 (approximately $48,500) in fair compensation, €2,700 (approximately $2,600) in unpaid salary, €8,373.13 (approximately $8,126) for wrongful termination, and the unpaid holiday allowance. It is unclear whether such a ruling can be appealed.
As such, the court found that Chetu Inc. did not have an urgent reason to dismiss their employee as soon as they did and probably only did so because the employee refused to submit themselves for further monitoring through their webcam.
The Rijswijk branch of Chetu Inc. was eventually deregistered from the Netherlands’ Chamber of Commerce and shut down on Sept. 2.