Should You Monitor Your Employees’ Private Messages?

Should You Monitor Your Employees’ Private Messages?

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled in an employer’s favour, following a Romanian engineer’s dispute over his sacking for sending private messages to his girlfriend during his contracted work hours. Bogdan Barbulescu’s employer informed him that his work-based Yahoo account had been monitored over several days, revealing a number of messages he had exchanged with his fiancée.

Barbulescu appealed to the European Court of Human Rights. His appeal has now failed, with the court ruling that it was not “unreasonable for an employer to want to verify that the employees are completing their professional tasks during working hours”.

Charlotte Gallagher, Managing Director of P3 People Management comments, “As the messages were personal, the case is both troubling and surprising for employees. Generally, the outcome is line with existing Employment Tribunal decisions in this area”.

“The question is whether the employee has a reasonable expectation of privacy on the company email system”, Charlotte continues. “UK legislation states that if monitoring is to be carried out, the employer should undertake an impact assessment first, and be sure that the monitoring justifies an intrusion into an employee’s private life”.

This is a sensitive area, involving both the privacy of employees and the rights of employers to expect their workers not to misuse IT and email that is specifically available in work time for business purposes only.

It is about clarity. “It is important that employers have clear policies which specify that monitoring will take place. It is even more important that these policies are drawn to the employees’ attention so, that in most cases, email monitoring is likely to be permissible”, Charlotte concludes.

Currently the UK implements decisions from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) by the Human Rights Act, but these are not directly enforceable against private sector employers. However, any UK court or tribunal has to take the ECHR and Human Rights Act into account.

To read more of Charlotte Gallagher’s views on this issue, please read our related article, “Employers: Do You Have a Reasonable Right to Pry?