The ECHR has recently handed down its judgment in Barbulescu v Romania in which it held that an employee's right to respect for his private life was not infringed when his employer accessed personal communications between the employee, his fiancée and brother via a Yahoo Messenger account which had been set up for the purpose of responding to the employer’s clients' queries.
The ECHR was satisfied that the employer's policies clearly prohibited the use of its computers for personal purposes and that the employer had acted legitimately in monitoring the employee's Yahoo Messenger account in the belief that it contained work-related messages.
The ECHR found that it was not unreasonable for an employer to want to verify that its employees are completing their professional tasks during working hours. It is of note that the ECHR had particular regard to the need to strike a balance between the employee's right to respect for his private life and his employer's interests.
What does this mean for employers?
While the ECHR judgment is not unexpected and is in keeping with existing UK law in this area, it offers a salient reminder to employers about the importance of having clearly drafted and well-communicated policies and procedures in place with regards to employees' use of IT systems (including in relation to the use of personal devices and monitoring). Employers should also ensure that any monitoring of their employees' use of IT systems is limited in scope and proportionate (fishing expeditions are best avoided) and carried out in accordance with data protection legislation.
Employers can read workers' private messages sent via chat software and webmail accounts during working hours, judges have ruled.The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) said a firm that read a worker's Yahoo Messenger chats sent while he was at work was within its rights.Judges said he had breached the company's rules and that his employer had a right to check on his activities.Such policies must also protect workers against unfettered snooping, they said.