Employers Can Justify Reading Workers' Private Online Messages Says European Court Of Human Rights

UK Courts Must Take Ruling Into Consideration

13.01.2016

David Shirt, Press Officer | 0161 838 3094

A case relating to whether an employer can snoop on an employee’s private online correspondence used in the workplace has highlighted the need for business to understand the issues and urgently review their policies in this area.

In a decision handed down yesterday (Tuesday), the ECHR ruled that a company that read an employee’s Yahoo Messenger chats that he sent while he was at work was within its rights to do so.

The case related to an engineer in Romania who had been using Yahoo Messenger to chat with his family, fiancée as well as to professional contacts.

He was dismissed for breaching the company’s internal regulations, which stated that it was strictly forbidden “to use computers, photocopiers, telephones, telex and fax machines for personal purposes”.

The employee had however asked the ECHR to rule that the company had breached his right to a private life and to confidential correspondence by accessing his messages.

Although the judges said the employer could monitor the messages on the basis that it thought it was a work account, the Court ruled that it was not acceptable to carry out unregulated snooping of staff’s private messages.

The judgment made it clear that employers must comply with the law.  If they don’t or the monitoring goes too far, the employee could resign and claim compensation.

ECHR rulings are not binding on countries that have ratified the European Convention on Human Rights, but their domestic courts must take them into consideration.