European employees should think carefully about using the internet to send private messages during office hours after the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in January that companies do have the right to spy on their staff’s work emails and online communications.
This follows on from the case of a Romanian engineer who was sacked in 2007 after using his company Yahoo Messenger to chat with his fiancée and brother; the company policy prohibited the use of messaging apps for personal use. The ECHR dismissed the engineer’s argument that his right to confidential correspondence had been violated.
The ECHR said “it was not unreasonable that an employer would want to verify that employees were completing their professional tasks during working hours”, adding “the company had accessed the messages in the belief they contained professional communications.”
This case impacts on all countries that have ratified the European Convention on Human Rights and will guide the European Union’s tribunal in future cases and rulings.
This ruling shows how important it is to have a clear policy in place documenting when employees can send personal emails from their work accounts. Employers need to be very clear about what monitoring systems they have in place and the reasoning behind these systems so that employees don’t feel like they are being spied on.
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