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ECHR ruling - Private messages at work can be read by employers

14/01/2016

Author: Carla Gowing

Employment, Legal Updates

The European Court of Human Rights (“ECHR”) has ruled that employers can read workers private messages sent via chat software and webmail accounts during working hours.

Judges in the ECHR considered whether a firm that read a worker’s Yahoo Messenger chats, sent whilst he was at work, were within their rights. They ruled that the firm were within their rights to read these messages. Judges concluded that he had breached the company’s rules by accessing his personal emails during working hours and therefore the employer had a right to check on his activities.

The employee, an engineer in Romania, had hoped that the court would rule that his employer had breached his right to confidential correspondence when they accessed his messages and subsequently sacked him in 2007. The employee had already lost his case in Romania's domestic courts and had appealed to the ECHR.

The ECHR dismissed the appeal and held that the employer had not erred in accessing the employees work account for the following reasons:

  • His employer had previously banned its staff from sending personal messages at work;
  • He had had prior warning that the company could check his messages;
  • The device used to send the messages was owned by the employer;
  • To check his account, it had been necessary for his employer to access his records;
  • The employer did not access other information stored on his work computer;
  • It was not unreasonable that an employer would want to verify that their employees were completing their professional tasks during working hours;
  • The employer had accessed the Yahoo Messenger account on the assumption that the information in question had been related to professional activities.

This judgment underlines the importance of employers having appropriate and lawful employee-monitoring policies in place, making sure that they are communicated to employees and then adhered to by both the employee and employer.

‘If you need advice on this, or any Employment matter, please contact Carla Gowing at Hatch Brenner on 01603 660811

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