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24 February 2021
On 12 January 2021 the Constitutional Court once again considered the rights of personal data protection and the freedom of communication in an employment context following an employer's inspection of an employee's corporate email account and the termination of the employee based on the outcome of such inspection (for further details please see "Constitutional Court rules on employers' review of employees' corporate emails").(1)
The Constitutional Court found that there had been no violation of the rights of personal data protection and the freedom of communication since the employment contract stated that:
The decision sheds light on the application of the principle of proportionality by stressing that the employer examined only the messages supporting its claims and used such correspondence during the trial process only to prove its arguments.
The applicant was a customer relations manager at a private bank. On receiving a complaint claiming that the applicant also worked at a business registered in the name of his spouse, the company initiated an investigation and requested the employee's defence.
The report issued by the bank inspector set out that the employee had:
In his defence, the employee stated that:
The employer terminated the employee by relying on a valid reason on the grounds that the employee had carried out commercial activities for his spouse's business during working hours, which breached the employer's workplace rules and meant that he was neglecting his principal duty, which was working for the employer.
The employee initiated a reinstatement case against the employer. The first-instance court rejected the case. In the appellate examination, the regional court of appeal upheld the first-instance court's decision by stating that the employer had been able to prove the valid reason and thereby finalised the decision.
In the application filed before the Constitutional Court, the applicant argued that:
The Constitutional Court stated that in such disputes, the courts should remember the following points:
The Constitutional Court ruled that the employer's processing of personal data via inspection of corporate email accounts was to ensure that work was being conducted efficiently throughout the business. As the employer provides financial services and employs a large number of employees, the court held that its inspection of employees' communication in their corporate email accounts constituted a legitimate interest in terms of workplace management and was an eligible method to achieve the desired purpose.
The Constitutional Court further stated that the applicant's employment contract stipulated that:
Therefore, the Constitutional Court ruled that the employer had fulfilled the explicit information requirement and the employee had consented to the inspection by signing the employment contract.
The decision suggests that:
Further, the decision stresses that the employer reviewed only the messages supporting the claims regarding the employee working at another job and used such communication during the trial process to prove its arguments. In this regard, the Constitutional Court ruled that the employer had conducted an inspection limited to the purpose of processing and used the collected data in compliance with the purpose.
The Constitutional Court found no violation of the applicant's rights to personal data protection and the freedom of communication.
In a previous decision of 17 September 2020, the Constitutional Court ruled in a similar case (Application 2016/13010) concerning an employer's inspection of employees' corporate email accounts (for further details please see "Constitutional Court rules on employers' review of employees' corporate emails"). The new Constitutional Court decision once again draws attention to the importance of the explicit information requirement in inspections conducted by employers and sheds light on the application of the principle of proportionality in the scope of inspections.
For further information on this topic please contact Pelin Baysal, Beril Yayla Sapan or Kardelen Özden at Gün & Partners by telephone (+90 212 354 00 00) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org). The Gün & Partners website can be accessed at www.gun.av.tr.
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