After recent legal rulings of the Federal Supreme Court have drawn broad boundaries for claims based on Article 15 GDPR, the Higher Labour Court of Saxony has endeavored in its judgment of 17 February 2021 (Ref. 2 Sa 63/20) (PDF only in German) to set limits to the claims. Such claims are now increasingly becoming the subject of labour court disputes. It is therefore worthwhile for companies to address the Court’s reasoning in order to be able to fend off unjustified claims for information in the future.
State of affairs
An employee was in dispute with his former employer about bonuses, vacation compensation and compensation for weekend work. In addition, the employee asserted a claim for information pursuant to Article 15 GDPR, as has frequently been the case recently in labour court proceedings, in order to obtain information about all personal performance and conduct-related data stored by his former employer in order to enforce his claims.
Material considerations of the court
The Court considered performance and conduct-related data of an employee to be personal data, to which a claim based on Article 15 GDPR can also relate. However, it denied the claim in this case, citing four reasons.
Firstly, following the legal rulings of the Federal Labour Court (BAG) (only in German), the claim fails, according to the Court, due to a lack of determinacy. Pursuant to § 253(2)2 of the Civil Procedure Code (only in German), the plaintiff must file a specific claim, stating the subject of the claim and the grounds on which it is based. The plaintiff’s application does not do this, since it is exhausted, without justification, in the mere reproduction of the wording of the law and lacks a concrete statement of the facts. Unfortunately, the ruling lacks any concrete explanations as to what requirements are to be placed on a corresponding request for information.
Moreover, the Court argues that the claim for information is also contradicted by the inappropriate purpose pursued by the plaintiff with it. The wording of Article 15 GDPR does not provide for a restriction of the right to information to the pursuit of specific purposes. However, the plaintiff is attempting to achieve a reversal of the burden of proof and explanation through the right to information based on Article 15 GDPR. Yet, when claiming compensation for overtime, it is incumbent upon the employee to state the extent to which he has worked overtime. Article 15 GDPR is not a tool for determining a state of affairs that would establish a claim. In this respect, in the view of the court, the claim also fails on the grounds of inappropriateness.
In accordance with Consideration 63, Sentence 7 of the GDPR (only in German), a controller processing a large amount of information about a data subject may require the data subject to specify the information to which his or her request for information relates. The plaintiff did not comply with the corresponding repeated request of the defendant. In this respect, the defendant was also entitled to refuse to provide the information for this reason.
Finally, the request was excessive. Pursuant to Article 12(5), Sentence 1 GDPR, the controller may refuse to act on such requests. It is noteworthy that the Higher Regional Court of Saxony does not refer to the scope of the requested information, but again to an inappropriate purpose. The request was to be considered excessive because it was not made in accordance with the purpose of the GDPR, but, inappropriately, in connection with monetary claims.
Our assessment – relevance of the ruling for companies
The Higher Regional Court of Saxony limits claims based on Article 15 GDPR and endeavors to put a stop to their inappropriate use. From a company’s point of view, this is to be welcomed, as the inappropriate use of requests for information can otherwise significantly shift existing rules on the burden of explanation and proof. At the same time, the Higher Regional Court of Saxony demonstrates the argumentation that can be used to defend against unjustified requests for information. However, it remains to be seen whether the Court’s reasoning will hold up in further legal rulings.back