Employers can read workers’ private messages, says European Court
14 January 2016

Employers can read workers’ private messages

Employers are being warned against ‘snooping’ on staff, despite the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling that an organisation that read a worker's personal messages sent while he was at work was within its rights.

Romanian engineer, Bogdan Bărbulescu, was dismissed for using his Yahoo Messenger email account – created for work purposes at his company's request – to send personal emails during working hours.

He claimed that his employer had violated his right to correspondence and was in breach of the Constitution and Criminal Code by accessing his communications. However, his complaint was dismissed on grounds that his employer had complied with dismissal proceedings and the complainant had been informed of company regulations.

Bărbulescu appealed, claiming his e-mails were protected by Article 8 – the right to respect for private and family life, the home and correspondence. The Court of Appeal held that the employer’s conduct had been reasonable and that monitoring had been the only way to establish whether a disciplinary breach had occurred.

Adam Rose, a data protection lawyer from Mishcon de Reya, said he wasn’t surprised by the ruling and expected other cases to emerge: "Though at first glance this judgment may seem controversial, in legal terms it makes total sense. Employers' systems are not there for the private use of employees, and employees can and should expect that their company has access to any information transferred via them.

"This judgment is likely to be an eye opener for many employees who in the past may not have thought twice about sending personal messages via their employer's systems."

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