US firm ordered to pay $73,000 to employee fired over turned off camera

A US firm unlawfully fired a remote employee after he refused to leave his webcam on for work, a court in the Netherlands ruled, citing the European Convention of Human Rights.

Chetu, a Florida-based software development company, has fired a telemarketer employed remotely in the Netherlands for refusing to turn his webcam on for work. Now the company will have to pay him €75,000 – or just under $73,000 – for wrongful termination of the contract, a Dutch court has ruled.

The remote worker was employed for over a year and a half before his contract was terminated in August. The company cited "refusal to work" and "subordination" as a reason, according to a court file (in Dutch).

It fired the employee a day after he refused to leave his camera on for a "corrective action" virtual training it ordered him to take three days prior. The employee said he did not feel "comfortable" being monitored for nine hours a day by a camera and that it was an invasion of privacy.

He argued that he was already sharing his screen and that the company could monitor what he was doing on the laptop. Several weeks after receiving his termination notice, the employee decided to sue, bringing a case to the Zeeland-West Brabant court in Tilburg, according to a report by NL Times.

In a court filing, he said the termination of the contract was disproportionate and the demand to leave his camera on violated privacy laws. He also said that "no urgent reason" was given to justify the immediate dismissal.

The court agreed, stating that "the employer has not made it clear enough about the reasons for the dismissal," according to NL Times. It also said there was "no evidence of a refusal to work" and that the "instruction to leave the camera on is contrary to the employee's right to respect for his private life."

The court cited Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights and an earlier ruling by the European Court of Human Rights, which said that "video surveillance of an employee in the workplace, be it covert or not, must be considered as a considerable intrusion into the employee's private life."

The court ordered the Florida company to pay the plaintiff €50,000 – or more than $48,000 – in compensation and roughly €25,000 (or $24,000) in unpaid salary, transition assistance, and wrongful termination.

In addition, the company would also have to pay for 23 vacation days that the fired employee did not use, the 8% statutory holiday allowance, and €585 (or $568) in legal fees.

Dutch laws allow either side to file an appeal within three months of the court ruling.

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