Federal government wants to better protect employees from surveillance

The monitoring of employees and the processing of their personal data is to be more strictly regulated by law in the future. This emerges from a list of proposals for a draft law on employee data protection, which should be available by autumn. In the paper prepared by the Federal Ministry of the Interior together with the Federal Ministry of Labor and available to the German Press Agency, it says that covert surveillance measures by an employer, which are possible under current law in exceptional cases, should in future only be permitted “if there is no other way to clear up a concrete suspicion of a criminal offense in the company”.

Conditions should be specified for open video surveillance and for the location of employees, which ensure that there are also places and times for the employees where they are not observed by the employer. Currently, the basic surveillance ban only applies to rooms such as toilets and changing rooms.

Camera surveillance usually requires the consent of the employees. However, it is often difficult for employees, especially when they are in the application phase or new to a company, to refuse the employer’s request for monitoring or the processing of data. This can also include consent to the use of photos for the intranet or the company’s website. Minister of Labor Hubertus Heil and Minister of the Interior Nancy Faeser are therefore considering making the requirements for voluntary consent more specific than before.

It should also be more precisely regulated which questions are not allowed in the job interview and which tests may be carried out in the selection process. The collection of ideas of the two SPD ministers, on the other hand, leaves it completely open as to whether there should be additional regulations for the protection of private data when private mobile phones and laptops are used for business purposes. According to the paper, it is still to be examined whether further measures are required for this.

According to reports, there will be talks with associations, works councils and other relevant stakeholders this month about the proposals. Back in 2011, when they were in opposition, the Greens submitted a draft for a “law to improve the protection of personal data for employees in the private sector and in public bodies”.

“Workers deserve effective protection from surveillance and control,” said Green Party domestic politician Misbah Khan. Ultimately, companies would also benefit from the legal certainty in data use that the project is aiming for. Employee data protection was neglected by previous federal governments, although the world of work has become increasingly digital in recent years – from the application process to personnel administration to the work itself.

In February, the administrative court in Hanover allowed Amazon Logistik Winsen GmbH to record data on a permanent basis for employee activities. In October 2020, the data protection officer of the state of Lower Saxony had prohibited the continuous collection of employee data by scanner, and the company had sued. The court allowed the appeal.


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