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.
Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the CIPD said the ruling was “not a green light for businesses to start snooping on employees”.
“The line between work and personal life is becoming increasingly blurred. We know that the working day rarely fits into a nine-to-five mould any more. Employees often respond to work emails on personal devices outside of usual working hours so it makes sense that, on occasion, they may want to engage in social correspondence during the working day on a work device,” he said.
The case follows news this week that The Daily Telegraph newspaper reportedly installed monitoring devices under employees’ desks to track their movements. An email sent to employees after the devices were fitted said they were to help the company improve energy efficiency.