Monitoring of employees’ emails

A recent decision by the European Court of Human Rights reminds employers that they need to be explicit about the extent to which their employees’ electronic communications are being monitored.

The judges, sitting in Strasbourg, were asked to consider the case of Romania-based engineer Bogdan Barbulescu, who lost his job ten years ago after it was discovered he was sending personal messages through a work email account.

While he had originally denied the claims, evidence was produced by his employers which, revealed that he had made personal communications with both his brother and fiancée some of which were of a sexual nature.

His dismissal triggered a long-running legal battle, with Mr Barbulescu arguing that the sales company in question had in fact breached his right to privacy.

The judges decided that the right to a private life had not been given adequate weight in earlier hearings.

The ECHR Grand Chamber said: “[An employer] cannot reduce private social life in the workplace to zero. Respect for private life and for the privacy of correspondence continues to exist, even if these may be restricted in so far as necessary.”

However, this situation could have been avoided if the employer had proper policies in place and been explicit about the extent they would monitor their employees’ electronic communications.

If you need advice on how best to incorporate a policy on internet and email usage into staff handbooks or related employment documents, please email Jo Yeates or David Scott or call 01904 528200.

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