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People use all sorts of things to cover their webcams while working: tape, Post-It Notes, their strained thumb, whatever’s handy. One fired worker can now use $75,000 in cash. It might be hard to balance it up there, though.

A court in The Netherlands recently ruled that a U.S. company violated a remote Dutch worker’s rights by firing him for not leaving his webcam on. He was subsequently awarded 75,000 euros ($73,300 U.S.) for wrongful termination. Sometimes it’s best for companies to let these things go.

The remote employee of Florida software firm Chetu began working there in 2019, and last August was ordered to take part in a totally fun-sounding virtual training session called “Corrective Action Program.”

He was then instructed that for the entire workday, he would have to remain logged in (fine), keep screen-sharing on (still fine but a little weird), and also leave his webcam activated the entire time (ok that’s a bit much).

The telemarketing worker did not leave a looped video of him staring ahead to trick his captors like Keanu Reeves did in the movie Speed.

Instead, he replied, “I don’t feel comfortable being monitored for 9 hours a day by a camera. This is an invasion of my privacy and makes me feel really uncomfortable … You can already monitor all activities on my laptop and I am sharing my screen.”

Days later, the worker was fired for “refusal to work” and “insubordination.” If you read the word insubordination in a Darth Vader voice, you’re not alone.

Being at the Office ≠ Being on Webcam

The worker took issue and filed a lawsuit against the company in Dutch court, which Chetu responded to at the time of the filing by claiming that webcam monitoring was no different than if the employee were actually present in the office. Worth a shot.

Suffice it to say the judge didn’t buy this argument and ruled in favor of the plaintiff. “The employer has not made it clear enough about the reasons for the dismissal. Moreover, there has been no evidence of a refusal to work, nor was there a reasonable instruction,” court documents state.

“Instruction to leave the camera on is contrary to the employee’s right to respect for his private life,” adding that it also violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Chetu did not show up for the hearing (it’s a long flight from Florida).

The company was ordered to pay a fine of $50,000, along with the worker’s backwages, court costs, and unused vacation days. It must also remove the non-compete clause.

Had this case involved a remote employee in the U.S., the verdict could have gone another way since Florida is an “at-will” state where workers can be fired for nearly any reason, as long as it’s not unlawful discrimination. The Netherlands and some other EU countries require a valid reason.

In any case, at least the Dutch worker didn’t have to do that training.

Profile Photo for Chason Gordon Chason Gordon
Chason Gordon is a former staff writer and editor for How-To Geek. His writing has previously appeared in Slate, Vice, Input, and The Globe and Mail, among other publications.
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