Employer reading private emails? Update

We reported in an earlier newsletter that employers are entitled to check the private emails and messages of staff that are bring used for work purposes during work hours.

A decision of the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights has now reversed this decision.

The facts of the case are that an employee set up a yahoo messenger account at the request of his employer. His employment contract was ended when the employer found that this account had been used for private purposes. The initial decision of the court held that the employer’s monitoring had been ‘limited in scope’ and they had not checked any of the employee’s other accounts or documents on his computer.

On appeal it was held that the employee's right to a private life had not been properly upheld. A balance has to be struck between the employer’s right to run its business smoothly and the employee's right to respect for his private life. However, the employee was not awarded any damages. There can be no further appeal.

It is vital for employers to ensure therefore that their policies in this area are very clear as to what is and what is not acceptable use of work equipment for private purposes. Such polices need to be clear and brought to the attention of all employees. If an employer is going to reserve the right to check employee's private emails, the policies must make this clear.

Interestingly the Court has put a Q&A section on its website.

Link to Q&A: http://www.echr.coe.int/Documents/Press_Q_A_Barbulescu_ENG.PDF

To discuss this or any other employment related issue, contact us.

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