The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has held that a company
was allowed to read its worker’s private messages when he was at work. The decision is binding on Great Britain.
The worker, a Romania engineer, was dismissed in 2007 for
breaching his employer’s regulations.
The company had found that the worker was using Yahoo Messenger not only
as part of his work but also for personal messages. The engineer argued that the company had
breached his right to confidential correspondence by accessing his
The ECtHR agreed with the domestic courts that the company
had acted within its disciplinary power by accessing the worker’s account because
it had believed the information it was accessing was in relation to a work
account. The company had therefore legitimately
accessed the Yahoo Messenger account.
The ECtHR held that it was not unreasonable for employers to want to make
sure that their employees were actually working during their working hours. It was held that the worker had breached
company rules and the company had a right to check that he was completing his
work. The ECtHR held that the domestic
courts had struck a fair balance between the engineer’s right to confidential
correspondence and the interests of the employer.
The ECtHR stated that it would be not acceptable for
employers to conduct unregulated snooping on their workers. Employers must have an electronic
communications policy for example, which sets out what and how they can monitor
and collect such information.
It is also advisable to include a monitoring clause in the
contract so that you have the employee’s express consent to monitor them.
For those employers who already have an electronic
communications policy, it is a good time to review it in the light of the
ECtHR’s judgment. Without the right to
monitor an employee, a company could find itself in breach of data protection
and could damage the relationship of trust and confidence implied into the employees’
contract of employment.