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No separate telephone connection for works councils

In a judgment dated July 30, 2014, the Higher Regional Court Niedersachsen (Landesarbeitsgericht, LAG; docket number: 16 TaBV 92/13) held that works councils are entitled neither to a separate telephone connection, nor to separate or unlimited internet access.

In the case at hand the works council was provided with a telephone connection as well as internet access. However, both communication channels generally could be controlled by the company. The company uses telephone systems which store traffic data related to the individual user and is able to analyze this data. The works council therefore suspected that it was being observed by the company. Moreover, internet access, which is controlled by one proxy-server across the company, is limited with regard to certain web pages such as “youtube.com”.

The court pointed out that, pursuant to sec. 40 para. 2 of the Works Constitution Act (Betriebsverfassungsgesetz, BetrVG), the employer is obliged to provide the works council with the necessary information technology to fulfill its functions. However, the need for hardware such as communication devices is subject to company practice as well as the employees’ interests. The court considered that the communication devices that were made available to the works council were sufficient. Since separate communication channels cause additional costs and the works council may demand not to be monitored, it held that the works council was not entitled to a separate phone connection due to pressing confidentiality reasons. With regard to the claim to unfiltered internet access, the court found that it was in the company’s justified interest to block webpages with criminal content. It also argued that separate access would mean that confidential data and e-mails would be made available to a third-party provider. According to the court, the confidentiality interests of the works council do not require a separate internet connection, in particular since the company was willing to commit to a confidentiality agreement, promising not to monitor the works council’s e-mails.