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A Simplified Norm to Represent an Expanding Power: the Right to Listen in on Employees’ Phone Calls and the Standardization of French Privacy Law

Since 2001, the French Court of Cassation has made a continuous effort to refine and, in some circumstances, narrow the scope of the right to privacy in the workplace with a view to reaching a fair and balanced approach. The January 6, 2015 declaration of the French Data Protection Authority (CNIL) further highlights this trend towards the standardization of information collection at work, and serves to clarify and expand the right of employers to listen in on employees’ phone calls at work.

Background

In the landmark 2001 “Nikon Case,” the Court of Cassation ruled that “an employee has the right to the respect of his private life – including the right to the secrecy of correspondence – on the work premises and during working hours.” This announcement was qualified, however, and the court further refined that unless marked by the employee as “private,” the documents and files created by an employee on a company-computer for work purposes are presumed to be professional, which means that the company can access those documents and files without the employee’s presence. This can lead to an employer using such emails against an employee in the case of employment termination. Nonetheless, employers have an obligation under privacy and labor laws to inform employees about the collection and use of their personal data.

Building off of this decision, in October 2014, the French Social Supreme Court held that evidence gathered against an employee from data that had not previously been declared to and registered with CNIL was de facto illegal.

The French Labor Code and the French Data Protection Act both stipulate rules for the use of monitoring software by employers in the event that an employer wishes to establish such mechanisms. In particular, the employer must submit information to and engage in consultation with the works council, provide information to employees impacted by the software and make a formal declaration of the proposed monitoring activities to CNIL.

CNIL Declaration: Movement Toward a Simplified Norm

Continuing this trend, the declaration issued by the CNIL on January 6, 2015, further demonstrates not only how important the CNIL is, but also how the area of data protection is evolving and become more standardized in France.

This recent declaration established that employers wishing to record their employee’s telephone communications must first declare such information by filling out a simplified declaration form in lieu of a normal declaration form. After effectuating this simplified declaration, an employer will have the ability to listen to and record employee conversations for the purpose of employee training, evaluation and betterment of the quality of service.

While this declaration serves to grant employers permission to monitor employees, it also imposes upon them a number of restrictions: (i) the employee must be notified and informed of his or her right to refuse such recordings and (ii) the employee may only keep recordings for a period of six months. The information gathered from such recordings, however, may be kept for a reasonable period of time.

The issuance [...]

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Save the Date: Privacy and Data Protection Webcast Series

In the quickly changing regulatory environment of digital privacy, an organization’s data privacy stakeholders need to understand the latest legal developments and risks their organizations face—or will face—globally.

McDermott Will & Emery is pleased to offer this complimentary three-part webcast series for professionals with data privacy responsibilities that will take a look at the legal developments in 2012 and provide a sneak peek at what new regulations may come in 2013.

Save the Date

Part I. U.S. Office for Civil Rights Finalizes Amendments to HIPAA Regulations to Implement HITECH Act
Following the issuance of regulations

Part II. Hot Topics in Workplace Privacy around the Globe
September 20, 2012

Part III. Data Privacy Year in Review
December 6, 2012

Further information on each webcast is forthcoming.

For more information, please contact McDermott Events.




ALJ Finds Employee’s Facebook Comments Unrelated to Working Conditions are not Protected Under the NLRA

by Stephen D. Erf, Heather Egan Sussman and Sabrina E. Dunlap

Two weeks ago, we wrote about a decision from an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) (available here) finding that the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) protected an employee’s Facebook comments made about his employer.  Last week, an ALJ issued another decision involving social media and the NLRA, finding that an employee had engaged in some protected activity, but that he was ultimately fired for other, unprotected activity.  In Karl Knauz Motors, a former salesperson claimed that he was fired after he posted pictures and comments on Facebook criticizing his employer’s choice of serving hot dogs at a sales event introducing the new BMW 5-series.  The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) recently issued a report related to social media (found here), in which it noted the employee’s posts in the BMW case were protected activity because they related to the terms and conditions of employment.

While the ALJ agreed that the employee had engaged in protected activity in discussing the sales event, the Judge held that the employer actually terminated the employee for his other Facebook posts, which mocked a co-worker for allowing a teenager to test drive a Land Rover, who ultimately drove the car into a nearby pond.  The Judge found that the NLRA did not protect such a posting because it had no connection to the terms and conditions of employment, and was posted solely by the employee, not as part of a discussion with other employees.  Therefore the employer did not violate the NLRA when it fired the employee.

In addition to the Facebook postings, the Judge also considered whether four provisions of the employer’s handbook violated Section 7 of the NLRA.  The Judge dismissed the complaint regarding a provision that encouraged employees to have a good attitude at work, because it could be read to protect the relationship between the dealer and its customers, rather than to restrict employees’ Section 7 rights.  However, the Judge held that the three remaining provisions, which each limited employees’ right to speak about employment, violated the NLRA because they all could be read as curtailing employees’ Section 7 rights, and if employees complied with these restrictions, they would not be able to discuss working conditions with union representatives or lawyers.

Based on this ALJ decision, employers should continue to exercise caution when making employment decisions based on social media comments.  There continues to be a fine line between protected activity and unprotected activity when it comes to employees’ social media comments about their employers.  In addition, employers should review and possibly revise their handbooks to ensure they cannot be read as restricting employees’ Section 7 rights.




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