The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that employees must be notified in advance if their work email accounts are being monitored without unduly infringing their privacy. This was in response to a 2008 case from Romania where Bogdan Barbulescu was fired for using a work messaging account to communicate with his family. The court ruled that Romanian judges, who had previously backed Mr Barbulescu’s employer, had failed to protect his right to a private life and correspondence as he had not been informed in advance of the extent and nature of his employer’s monitoring staff emails or the possibility that his employer may gain access to the contents of his messages. The court also found that there had not been sufficient assessment of whether there were legitimate reasons to monitor his communications.
Enrique Garcia is an employment law consultant with the ELAS Group. He says: “The main thing to take from this is that workers have a right to privacy in the workplace. If an employer has a rule that equipment is to be used for business use only, then before monitoring staff emails for personal use they would need to forewarn employees. This should be clearly stated in a use of company equipment policy.
“Although, in this case, the company had a policy stating that he would use company equipment for business purposes only, the policy did not state that the company were actively monitoring staff emails for personal use, only his use of the equipment, and he had not been told that this would happen.
“Basically, employers should only monitor personal communications where this is necessary. Furthermore, when an employer has a reason to monitor personal communications, this should be communicated to the employees.
“Unless in specific circumstances e.g. where an employee is suspected of breaching confidentiality, exposing the company to risk such as damage to IT systems or liability in the case of illegal activities online, all employees have the right to privacy in the workplace and, therefore, should not be monitored without forewarning.”