The Tribunal Constitucional, the constitutional court of Spain made a landmark ruling in the case of Perez Gonzalez v Alcaliber S.A in October finding that companies are allowed to access and monitor communications conducted by employees through the IT resources of the company which includes texts and emails as part of any investigations undertaken for employee misconduct.
Alcaliber dismissed Perez Gonzalez for providing trade secrets to its competitors. The company accessed their employee’s company emails as well as the hard drive of the laptop while in the presence of the notary public due to suspicions against the employee for wrongdoing and such a step was taking to confirm the grounds of dismissal. Emails which were dated in 2007 and 2008 confirmed the suspicions which the company had regarding their employee having disclosed information regarding the previous year’s poppy crops from the company’s account to a competitor of the company.
The employee challenged his dismissal on the grounds of wrongful termination and he even refuted that the emails weren’t valid enough for being evidence against him, stating that he had the basic right to privacy and secrecy while communication as part of the Article 18 of the Spanish constitution. The constitutional court however held the employee as not having a reasonable well founded expectation of confidentiality while he was making use of the email account of the company or any other communications occurring in the workplace where monitoring is foreseeable. In addition, the company’s collective bargaining agreement also stated that company owned networks for communications could not be used for reasons which were not work related. Thus on this basis, the court stood by its decision of the Madrid Labor Court and the High Court of Justice in affirming the dismissal.
The Spanish constitutional court did not see the dismissal as being disproportionate considering the severity of sharing information which was confidential for the company. The court also ruled that the company should be allowed to monitor the communications of employees to verify any suspicions they may have with regard to transgressions made as monitoring is needed in such instances to provide evidence for dismissal.
Considering this case, employers and employees should learn that the right to privacy and confidentiality is definitely a very sensitive issue and one which must be handled with care. The best thing which can be done is for employers to introduce well rounded policies which they should explain clearly to their employees and employees too should be aware of their actions while at the workplace. When both parties involved deal with the matter on an equal footing, issues such as these and other severe ones can be avoided. Taking a case to the court can take long to get done with and can leave both the employer and employee in a state of exhaustion which is why both sides must work together. By clearly stating such policies, employers can keep themselves safe and by letting employees know of the existence of such policies, they too can behave accordingly.