Monitoring Workers’ Communication
A recent European Court of Human Rights (‘ECHR’) case has ruled in favour of the right to privacy of workers’ communications. They have overruled an earlier decision of the Chamber of ECHR.
The background of the case is that a Romanian employer had monitored an employee’s Yahoo messenger account. Mr Barbulescu was an engineer who used his business Yahoo Messenger account to send and receive personal messages. This was in breach of his employment contract. His employer discovering this dismissed him.
Mr Barblescu sought to exclude all evidence of his personal communications on the grounds it infringed his rights to privacy. The Grand Chamber of the ECHR ruled that workers have a right to respect for privacy in the workplace, and if an employer is going to monitor their emails and messages, the employer should tell the worker that their communications might be monitored. Mr Barblescu knew it was prohibited to use work computers for personal purposes, however he had not been told that the employer was monitoring his communications.
Ideally, businesses should have a code of conduct or policy that covers workplace monitoring. If a code or policy has been agreed, it will usually form part of the workers contract. This means that where an employer is allowed to monitor activities, these activities could be the subject of disciplinary action if the worker is using workplace equipment in ways that are not permitted.