ECHR ruling – Employers monitoring and reading your work email

It is not uncommon for employees, at every level, to use their work email address to send personal messages to friends and family. A recent case at the European Court of Human Rights has put some panic amongst employers and employees.

In a landmark ruling by the ECHR, the judges found the courts in Romania failed to protect an employees private correspondence at work, because his company had not given prior notice that it was monitoring their communications.

This information has been widely misreported as already decided, but it is only now that the decision has been made.

There is no need for employees (or employers) to panic, just yet. The ECHR judgement refers to a Romanian case, but its impact on the UK is important, as it also will be referred to in the Employment Tribunals and cases.

In this particular case, a Romanian national, at his employers request, created a Yahoo! Messenger account to communicate with clients. In July 2007, his employer informed him that they had been monitoring his communications and found that he had been using them for personal purposes, contrary to internal regulations. He was shown a transcript of messages he had exchanged with his fiancée and his family, some of which related to personal matters about his health and sex life. His employment was then terminated.

The Romanian County Court dismissed his complaint on the grounds that his employer had duly informed of the employer’s regulations prohibiting use of company resources for personal purposes.

After 10 years of debate, the ECHR finally held that there was a violation of an employee’s right under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to respect for private and family life, the home and correspondence).

There are already many precedents in European and British Law, including the case known as Copland. Employers who monitor also need to seek advice on the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA 2000). Also, the Telecommunications (Lawful Business Practice) (Interception of Communications) Regulations 2000 has some relevance.

There are strict restrictions on employee monitoring, aside from ensuring no unlawful acts are carried out –  but these generally apply only to the financial sector. UK law imposes a duty of trust and confidence between employer and employee, so that an employer has some duty to safeguard the employee and their privacy and give reasonable warning about monitoring.

For employers who are monitoring their employees email, the ECHR and common-sense dictates that employees should be fully informed as to processes and monitoring. Not least to follow law, but also to ensure trust between staff and employer.

If you are an employer who would require specific advice, we suggest contacting an appropriate law firm. We are able to assist with email monitoring systems, but cannot advise on law. Please note this article is intended for information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice.

More information can be found at EuroNews, and many other sites including Google News.

Photograph of European Court of Human Rights courtesy of CherryX – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

The article is intended for information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.

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