New regulations make it harder for firms to spy on their employees

Few would argue that the extraordinary technological leaps and bounds of recent years have improved our lives, but they've also allowed employers unprecedented power to spy on their employees. Whether it's the surveillance camera in the corner of the shop or your boss reading your personal emails, Big Brother might very well be watching you. But unjustified spying on your employees without their consent is actually illegal in the Czech Republic, and doing so is now more difficult following an amendment to the Labour Code. We discussed the problem with Helena Svatosova, a lawyer specialising in the field for the legal rights NGO Iuridicum Remedium.

"It's hard to estimate the size of the problem. There are no statistics of legal litigation of such cases, but according to our experience as an organisation dealing with privacy protection, it's quite widespread. The problem is that employees don't fight for their rights so much."

Can you give us an example of how employers spy on their employees at work?

"The main problem is video surveillance, but there is also a problem with spying on communication - email communication, tracking of websites visited by employees and so on."

One can understand why people would have problems with cameras recording your every move at work, but what's wrong with an employer checking out what websites you're looking at when you're working? Surely there's every justification to do that?

"If the employer has previously declared that he will do it, it's not a problem. The problem is when it's done in secret and then used, or misused against employees."

So it's more about consent, that the employee should be aware that when he or she signs a contract with a firm, they agree that their email and website use will be monitored.

"Yes, of course. And it's not only about website content, it's also about passwords and if they do some financial transactions from work. This is also a question not of simply knowing what the employee is looking at."

Looking at these new regulations in the amendment to the Labour Code, that say it is no longer sufficient just to have the employee's consent for monitoring, as was previously the case, but now an employer must only spy on his employees not only with their consent but only in unavoidable cases. Are you happy with this amendment? Does it go far enough to protect Czech workers?

"Yes, I think it's anchored properly in the law. This wasn't in the previous legal code. But the law itself is not sufficient. It should be complemented by awareness of the problem and the rights and duties of both sides."

So employees should also be aware of their rights when they sign a contract.

"Exactly, and I think especially on the part of the employees there should be more courage to ask for their rights and maybe more support from trade unions or NGOs."