A Spanish legal case provides a useful reminder of some of the general principles around covert monitoring that apply in the UK.

What happened?

The manager of a Spanish supermarket identified a significant discrepancy between actual and expected stock levels - sometimes as much as €20,000 per month. The store installed both visible and hidden cameras to monitor the store's cashiers. The footage showed five employees stealing from the store and helping customers to do the same. The employees were dismissed.

The employees argued that it was a breach of their right to a private life to be covertly monitored by their employer.

The European Court of Human Rights held that in this case installing covert CCTV to monitor workplace theft did not violate the employees' privacy rights. A reasonable suspicion of serious misconduct, combined with the extent of the losses, appeared to constitute a weighty justification.

What employers should know about covert monitoring

• Covert video surveillance is rarely justified and should only be carried out in exceptional circumstances where you reasonably believe that there is no less intrusive way of tackling the issue.

• It should be done for the shortest possible period and affect as few individuals as possible.

• You should make and record a contemporaneous assessment to evidence your justification for employing covert recording. This should include the measures put in place to limit the impact on the data protection rights.

• Employers using CCTV should have appropriate policies and privacy notices in place to explain how and why CCTV is used, and the limited circumstances in which undisclosed surveillance may be utilised.

  • Rebecca Fox is a senior associate in the employment law team at award-winning law firm VWV, which has offices in Clarendon Road, Watford.