06 January 2016

The Right to Monitor Employees Emails

The Right to Monitor Employees Emails

The European Court of Human Rights was asked to consider a case recently where an employer (in this case a Romanian company) had accessed personal communications sent (on Yahoo Messenger) during work hours using the employers device. The employee was dismissed when the employer discovered that he was using the service for personal communications. The employee argued that the monitoring of his personal communications was an infringement of his right to privacy under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Court disagreed saying “that it is not unreasonable for an employer to want to verify that the employees are completing their professional tasks during working hours” and that the monitoring was limited in its scope and “proportionate”. This, in the context of privacy debates, is a key element of the Court’s position on this issue. It’s worth noting that the employee used a personal messenger service in his communications (not his employer’s service). It appears that the use of the employer device is the key element.

It is not unknown for companies to monitor their employees’ communications online (even before they become employees e.g. taking a look at job applicants’ social media profiles). Apparently most UK companies do this. A third of US employers (according to a poll) have fired employees for internet misuse.

Before however one considers disciplining an employee for telling their spouse they are about to leave the office, one ought to reflect carefully on what behaviour is being complained about. One should be careful of a disproportionate disciplinary response where it is a slight breach of policy. A quick email or message to one’s partner saying that they are on their way home should not be met with summary dismissal. A clear communication to employees generally of what the employer’s expectations are in this area (as well as other areas) is a key element of an employer’s internal policies.

Alex Lee

Alex Lee
Partner