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This question has already been answered here - Can an employer demand that you turn on your video camera during a conference call when you are working from home?
But it was specific for the United States.

An element of my family works as a Contractor for a company, for several years, and now while working from home since last year, the company is starting to push everyone into "turning on the camera by default if possible, so we can see when someone is confused", or "every Friday we will now have a 'coffee break' meeting, and camera is required", etc...

The person in question isn't comfortable at all with that, and would like to keep camera turned off at all times, as always has been so far.

I'd like to know if a company in Ireland can require their workers to turn the camera on during conference calls.

The person has a laptop provided by the company.

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    You have said they are a contractor. Do you mean to say they are self-employeed, acting in the capacity of a business in their own right? Mar 25 at 14:05
  • @GregoryCurrie - Contractor means daily rate contract, and yes, the person is a director of a company.
    – Nuno
    Mar 25 at 14:29
  • So... my question was closed as "off-topic", but the exact same question (which I linked, for USA) is not "off-topic" too? And why were all the comments removed? What was the benefit in doing that? Was there anything wrong with what was being discussed here?
    – Nuno
    Mar 27 at 7:54
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    If I was to take a guess, it's because the person in question is self-employed, which makes this a law question, not a workplace question. Mar 27 at 11:16
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Don't go down that road.

I expect nobody knows for sure the legal answer until there has been a legal case addressing it. But under normal circumstances a company can require specific behaviours from you, such as wearing certain styles of clothing, not using certain types of language, attending meetings (and requiring them in person when Covid isn't making that impossible). Asking you to turn on a camera isn't unreasonable.

If you flat out refuse then a company is unlikely to make it a disciplinary action. But you are creating for yourself a reputation as uncooperative, which will not help your career prospects, or likelihood of having a contract renewed.

If you have a really serious reason for not wanting to be visible on camera, talk to the company about it.

Unless you are prepared to actually get into a legal battle over this, don't start down the "you can't legally force me to do this" road. Even if they can't legally force you, it's almost certain that you can be denied promotions or bonusses, or even be fired, for refusing to cooperate. And a legal battle will likely leave you out of a job and poorer by some lawyer fees even if you win.

Most importantly this is an easy problem for you to address. You don't say why you want to remain off-camera, but you should be prepared to:

  • Dress professionally when at virtual meetings
  • Find a place where you won't be frequently disturbed for the meetings. However companies will always allow you some leeway here -we all know that family members (especially young ones) are going to wander into camera view occasionally. If there is someone in your house who shouldn't be, just make sure they keep out of view.
  • Find a place with a background that doesn't look unprofessional, and doesn't reveal too much about your personal life. And it doesn't have to be that good - my boss regularly dials in from his unfinished basement. As long as you don't have a picture of porn or Adolf Hitler visible you are probably fine.

This should fix most of your likely problems. If you have specific issues then ask your company about them. Or edit them into the question and we can try to address them.

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    @Fattie Feel free to write your own answer. But in fact I believe my answer is correct - unless there is a specific law stating that an employer cannot require a camera to be turned on, then everything is going to come down to case law and interpretation. Mar 25 at 14:09
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    @Fattie There is no such thing as a factual answer here, at least until we have a precedent (and even then, precedent isn't everything). If the OP wants a strictly law interpretation of the answer, they are probably best to ask in Law SE. Mar 25 at 14:10
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    I think what a lot of people don't understand when someone breaks the law, the police aren't going to step in and say, "Okay now do this or you go to prison." No, usually when you break a law, you, as a defendant has to prove it, and then go to court and seek compensation. That will take years, thousands of dollars, and no guarantee that you're going to come out on top and even if you do if you're going to be in the positive gain after subtracting everything.
    – Dan
    Mar 25 at 14:20
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    @Fattie if that is the key aspect of the question it should be closed or moved to Law. Or better yet, closed and discussed with a lawyer This is a fairly good answer as to what is wise to do as an employee. Mar 25 at 14:59
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    @Fattie: I think this is a good frame challenge answer. It does address the OP's literal question ("I expect nobody knows for sure"), which is good, but even that isn't a hard requirement. Your position seems to be that the the question requires a non-frame-challenge answer, and that the only valid answers are "yes" and "no" (not even "unknown"). Can you explain why you feel that way?
    – ruakh
    Mar 25 at 23:51
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Without going into legalities they can ask for anything they want in terms of usage of their equipment.

It would be career limiting to refuse such a request.

But you can always push back and state a preference not to, best to have a well thought out reason first. 'I don't want to use your equipment the way you want it used' isn't a great excuse unsupported.

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    Plus, if the meeting was in person, the employee wouldn't be able to hide their face anyway. It's a silly hill to die on, and probably is due to the employee hiding something about their home working conditions.
    – SnakeDoc
    Mar 25 at 23:35
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    @SnakeDoc even thats not much of an excuse. My workshop is full of charts and screens displaying secure information. But whenever I'm doing a face to face all anyone can see is me and a wall right behind me.
    – Kilisi
    Mar 25 at 23:53
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You have said they are a contractor. If they are actually self-employeed, from a legal standpoint they are able to set their own working conditions as they see fit, provided it meets the obligations specified in the contract.

While a workplace is involved here, this is very heavily a law question that will touch on many concepts such as implied contracts as well as frustrated contracts.

It is unlikely that all employee protections apply here, so be very wary of any answers that detail specific concepts that relate to employees.

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While I do not know the legality of this. There's also a more human part to this issue. and I'd like to address that part.

First of, some people might understand if you say you prefer not using a webcam. Depending on the reason some or even most people won't make an issue of it.

If you have a clear and valid reason, just bring it up politely. Though make sure that you start with the webcam on, while being well dressed and groomed, preferably in an as professional as possible location. This is to show that you are invested in the meeting itself and it's really just about the webcam. (if possible turn it back on while the meeting winds down to show that you're still in that attentive state)

Second: try and schedule phone calls if you plan the meetings. It's a valid way to communicate that we've been using for years. If you can, control the medium and avoid the issue entirely.

At the end of the day though, my real advice is to just keep the webcam on and do your best getting used to it. It's quickly becoming a social skill that will be around for a while in the professional world.

One thing that helped me be more confident sitting in front of a webcam is learning how to look presentable in front of them. There's some easy and cheap lighting tricks and you can get some pretty good webcams and cheap microphones these days that are miles better than the ones in a laptop. fixing my lighting and making sure I could be seen and heard clearly gave the same kind of confidence boost as being well dressed and groomed for an in person meeting and really helped adjusting to these meetings.

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    Some reasons that you may be comfortable with giving and are valid despite that might be (I have heard or used so far): "I can concentrate better while walking, so I join in with my phone", "There is a driver issue with my camera / a known bug in MS Teams that they won't fix", "My internet will lag even more with camera on, i just disable videos of all usually (demonstrate lag when turning on)"
    – lucidbrot
    Mar 26 at 7:14
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working from home since last year

I am not a lawyer, but try to apply some common sense to what you say here:

Before the pandemic, they were working confined to a room set up by their employer, on their employers property with people being able to observe them every second of their working hours, probably even from behind their backs without them knowing. They had probably colleagues sharing not only an office, but a kitchen and even a bathroom. And they had no objections for years.

But now, they object to being visible for short periods of their day in business meetings?

No, there should be no legal ground there. Again, not a lawyer, there might be, you will only find out if you hire one. But it would have to be a pretty ridiculous law to be able to prevent the employer from seeing their employee through company owned equipment on company time.

If your "element" has issues with what is going on around them in the background because it's their personal home, there are technical solutions for that and they should ask that specific question.

If they have issues with talking face to face with people on camera they would have talked to face to face in the real world anyway, then this is something specific to them. No employer will tolerate that in the long run and they probably should get help for that problem so they can speak to people face to face via cameras in the future.

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I'd just add that if the concern is about people seeing some content in the home that the OP is not happy about, a simple privacy screen will suffice. You can even buy a "green-screen" that clips onto the back of your chair and enormously reduces the processing needed to use a fake background.

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I would say that what is legally important in Ireland, in the EU, in this case is GDPR as clearly a video feed into someones home is "personally identifiable information" and discussing the persons legitimate concerns with the data protection officer for the employer to understand why this is necessary and covered by the company privacy statement may produce some common sense from the employer (or customer in the case of a contractor)

From the employers point of view they need to be sure that the person concerned is actually doing the work as far as they can, for security reasons. Otherwise who are they authorising to access their systems?

That said even if it was legally possible to mandate the person to have their camera switched on there are ways round that. Make sure there is nothing in view that you would be concerned about, a fake background picture might help, or even a Snapchat-like filter on the users image.

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  • A picture of somebody's room is not PII, unless there is maybe a picture of a diploma on the wall etc. GDPR isn't just a bussword you throw around when it's related to privacy. Mar 27 at 11:12
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I'd like to know if a company in Ireland can require their workers to turn the camera on during conference calls.

It's hard to say what you mean by "required."

In terms of common sense, I want to say yes, employers can require you to do anything they want to complete the tasks they require. The limitation, of course, is whatever sort of protected laws there are. I highly doubt there is a law, in any country, that says "web cameras" can or cannot be used. That sounds rather silly.

I also think your country has some sort of "at-will" clause to employment which would typically work both ways. Your employer could say, "We want you to keep your camera on during meetings. No exceptions." And you could say, "Sorry that's not something I'm willing to do, see ya later."

Now there is a trick here. If they require you to keep the camera on 24/7 and while working, I want to say that is sort of creeping into privacy issues, which no doubt your country has. But if they require that you keep your camera on during meetings, outside of any sort of technical issues, I don't see a problem with it.

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    OP has explicitly stated that they are in Ireland, which (like much of the developed world) doesn't allow "at-will" employment. However, OP has also stated that they're a contractor, so different rules would apply anyway. Mar 26 at 6:33
  • @GeoffAtkins Sure but I'm guessing regardless employers have a right to require their employees to do what they feel will accomplish their business objective. And if there was a law, I'd imagine it would still turn out badly for you since the employer would no doubt pass on you for any future considerations or promotions.
    – Dan
    Mar 26 at 16:09

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