Labor law question: Can the boss monitor the browser history?

Does the browser history on the work computer only show visits to work websites? Many employees also surf privately during working hours.

Labor law question: Can the boss monitor the browser history?

Does the browser history on the work computer only show visits to work websites? Many employees also surf privately during working hours. Does this concern the employer?

Some employers would like to know exactly what their employees do all day. For example, which websites they visit in this way. But are companies allowed to monitor this?

This question depends on what is agreed between the parties to the employment contract - i.e. employee and employer - explains Johannes Schipp, specialist lawyer for labor law from Gütersloh. "Did the employer permit the use of the Internet? Has he restricted it? Or did he generally prohibit private use of the Internet?" Employers could certainly dictate to their employees that the private use of work equipment is strictly prohibited.

Depending on what is agreed, employers now have different options. "With the hardest line, employers are allowed to look at the devices and also understand the browser history," says Schipp. If access to the Internet is restricted - for example private use is only permitted outside of working hours - the employer may also check browser history. According to Schipp, however, this is only possible if the employer has legitimate reason to believe that the Internet was used during working hours.

"Then it goes into the area of ​​​​working time fraud: An employee allows himself to be paid, although he is only pursuing private interests during working hours," says Schipp. For a concrete suspicion, however, evidence is needed that the use actually took place during working hours. Where it is permitted to use devices for private purposes in general, employers can usually not easily check browser activities.

The issue of data protection has not been clarified by the highest court, says Schipp. According to the specialist lawyer, there is a discussion in the literature as to whether the General Data Protection Regulation has an impact on the usability of browser data.

So far, however, there have only been court decisions before the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation. "The current status is that employers are also allowed to use the data in case-related examinations."

(This article was first published on Monday, August 29, 2022.)

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