On October 1, 2020, the Hamburg Data Protection Authority (“DPA”) fined Hennes & Mauritz AB (“H&M”) € 35.3 million for unlawful employee monitoring practices in the company’s service center concerning several hundred employees. According to the DPA’s press release, H&M was maintaining excessive details about employees’ private lives since 2014. This includes notes taken by managers regarding (1) employees’ vacation experiences, illnesses, diagnoses and symptoms as discussed with managers during welcome-back talks after employees’ vacation or sick leave, and (2) information ranging from employees’ family problems to religious beliefs obtained by managers during floor talks. The information was stored digitally and could be read by up to 50 managers throughout the company. According to the DPA, the managers’ notes were sometimes made with a high level of detail and maintained over great periods of time. The press release states that the information was used to evaluate the performance of employees, create employee profiles and make other employment-related decisions.

The data collection was uncovered after the data became accessible company-wide for several hours in October 2019 due to a system configuration error. Following press reports of H&M’s employee monitoring activities, the DPA initiated an investigation and found the records on employees’ private lives. According to the DPA’s press release, H&M adopted remedial measures, including appointing a new Data Protection Coordinator and presenting a plan to the DPA on how data protection will be implemented in the future. In addition, H&M apologized to its employees and stated that it intends to pay compensation to the affected employees.

The DPA viewed positively H&M’s efforts to compensate the affected employees and restore confidence in the company. Ultimately, the DPA determined that the amount of the fine was adequate and effective under the circumstances in order to deter companies from violating employee privacy.

Read the Hamburg DPA’s press release (in English).