Landmark HR Ruling: Worker whose boss who read messages ‘breached privacy’
In a landmark ruling, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that employers can monitor the emails and messages of their staff – but only if they are informed beforehand.
The ruling has come after a Romanian employee was fired for sending private messages on his professional Yahoo messaging account.
In the landmark case, Bogdan Bărbulescu was fired 10 years ago, with his company using print outs of his messages as evidence at court.
Bărbulescu was employed in sales and was asked to launch a Yahoo account to answer client emails. Three years later, his employer told him his account had been monitored. Bărbulescu had also used the account to email his brother and fiancé. Some of the exchanged messages reportedly related to sexual health, The Guardian reports.
After being fired, Bărbulescu then took the case to Strasbourg, claiming that his privacy should have been protected under the convention of human rights. The ECHR grand chamber judgment said that an employer “cannot reduce private social life in the workplace to zero. Respect for private life and for the privacy of correspondence continues to exist, even if these may be restricted in so far as necessary.”
A spokesperson for Open Rights Group, a charity which aims to preserve digital rights, has applauded the ruling, saying: “This Judgment is welcome. If employers are going to monitor their staff’s emails, they should explicitly tell them,” said a spokesperson for Open Rights Group.
“In some industries email monitoring may be necessary, but companies should also consider whether other, less intrusive options would be more effective.”
Speaking to the Guardian, James Froud, a Solicitor at Bird & Bird, said: “It will be interesting to see whether this decision opens the floodgates to similar claims in the UK and what view judges take in each case in the light of it. UK courts have for some time had to grapple with the conflict between the right to privacy and employers upholding internal discipline.”
This article was first published in HR Grapevine. You can see the original article here.