A right to spy on employees?

There has been a great deal of media speculation on the recent ruling of the European Court of Human Rights (Bârbulescu V. Romania), which decided that monitoring an employee’s emails did not breach his right to a private life under the Convention. However, contrary to some of the headlines, the decision does not give a green light to snoop on employees’ personal emails. Mr Bârbulescu had been asked to set up a yahoo messenger account by his employer to deal with client enquiries. He was informed that using email for personal purposes was forbidden under company policy. As part of its investigation, the employer accessed personal messages sent by the employee to his fiancée and his brother on ‘intimate subjects’. He was subsequently dismissed for personal use of email.

The Court held that there was no violation of privacy, as the monitoring of the account and use in disciplinary proceedings had been necessary to ensure employees did not breach its policy and was limited and proportionate. Nothing in the judgment overrides the UK’s current law and practice on monitoring in the workplace. There is still a reasonable expectation of privacy and the need for any interference in privacy to be reasonable and proportionate. The decision is a reminder of the importance of having appropriate policies in place setting out the extent to which personal use of systems is permitted and the circumstances in which monitoring may occur. O&W are happy to advise individuals and companies on their rights and duties regarding privacy and monitoring