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Ikea fined for spying on staff

Makbool Javaid, Partner - Simons Muirhead & Burton

The Guardian reports that Swedish furnishing conglomerate Ikea has been fined €1m ($1.2m) for illegally spying on its employees in France and storing their data.

The fine was ordered by a French court on Tuesday after a criminal probe launched in 2012 found that Ikea France had created an elaborate “spying system” to snoop on staff and on customers who had opened disputes.

Prosecutors said Ikea France tapped police sources, engaged a private security company, and hired private detectives to illegally acquire confidential information on its workers and prospective employees.

Worker representatives said the information was used to target union leaders in some cases or used to Ikea’s advantage in disputes with customers, after the firm trawled data on people’s finances and even what cars they drove. It was also found to have paid for access to police files.

The firm’s former chief executive in France, Jean-Louis Baillot, was found guilty in the case and handed a two-year suspended prison sentence. Judges fined him 50,000 euros for storing personal data.

If a UK business were to conduct similar activities as described in the Ikea case today, the consequences would likely be far more severe, given that the UK GDPR allows the Information Commissioner to impose fines of up to 4% of worldwide turnover or £17.5 million (whichever is greater) for non-compliance. In a UK context, excessive staff surveillance could also breach the duty of trust and confidence implied in every employment relationship, or potentially even the right to respect for privacy and family life.

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