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Woman who blocked cameras loses case

By Yang Zekun | China Daily | Updated: 2024-06-19 09:12
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A court recently sided with a company in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, that dismissed a female employee who used umbrellas to block a surveillance camera installed by the company in the office area for 18 days.

The court also refused the woman's claim for compensation from the company, according to a recently disclosed court case.

The case has sparked widespread discussion on social media platforms. Some netizens said the company's actions may infringe on employees' privacy, while others argued that the installation of cameras in an office space is a normal practice and employees should not obstruct them.

In June 2019, the company installed several high-definition cameras in the workplace. One of them was positioned above the workstation of the female employee, who was concerned it would violate her privacy.

Consequently, she used two umbrellas to block the camera. Despite repeated talks with the employee and two warning letters from the company's human resources manager, she continued to use the umbrellas at her workstation.

A month later, the company terminated her employment contract, citing serious disciplinary violations for using the umbrellas at her workstation.

After being dismissed, the employee demanded the company pay her about 335,000 yuan ($46,000) in compensation for unlawful termination. After two trials and a retrial, the Guangdong Provincial High People's Court concluded that the company's decision to terminate the contract was legal and reasonable, and rejected the employee's compensation claim.

The ruling said the company installed the cameras to ensure the safety of personnel, property and materials in the workplace, which is a common and legitimate practice. The cameras were installed in areas where multiple people work and were typically positioned in upper corners.

The employee claimed that the camera above her workstation could easily violate her privacy, but she provided no evidence to support her claim. The high court also said that she did not comply with the company's request to remove the umbrellas and refused to correct her actions after receiving the two warning letters from the HR manager, which disrupted normal work order and had a negative impact on other employees. Therefore, the company had the right to terminate the labor contract with the employee.

Lou Yu, a law professor at the China University of Political Science and Law, noted that from a labor law perspective, if an employer needs to monitor employees' work, it should be included in the company's regulations or employment contracts.

Companies are required to publicize regulations on monitoring and solicit employee opinions, he said.

Employers must obtain employees' consent and ensure that monitoring is necessary for productivity. The need for monitoring can be stipulated in contracts, regulations or collective agreements, he said.

"Companies must ensure personal surveillance information is used solely for production and operational purposes and not provided to others or used for other purposes to prevent the leakage of personal information," he said.

Huang Leping, head of the Beijing Yilian Legal Aid and Research Center of Labor, said that installing surveillance cameras in the workplace falls within the scope of a company's management rights. He emphasized that while companies can install surveillance equipment to strengthen management, they must not infringe on employees' privacy rights.

Employees who believe their privacy rights are infringed upon due to such cameras can lodge complaints with their local trade unions or labor inspection departments, he said, adding that it is more appropriate for a third party to settle the matter.


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