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Employer legally entitled to snoop on personal emails - Bărbulescu v Romania [2016]

The European Court of Human Rights has handed down an important decision impacting on an employee’s right to privacy in the context of personal emails and messages. The case has been widely reported in the press and, whilst it does appear to justify an employer reviewing an employee’s personal communications in some circumstances, it does not give employers an unfettered right to monitor employees’ personal communications.

The European Court determined that a Romanian employer was entitled to monitor personal messages sent by an employee via their employer’s Yahoo messaging account. The employer sought to review the employee’s usage of the Yahoo account, in order to justify dismissing them for breaching their employment policy and using the internet, for personal reasons, at work.

This case has been widely reported in the press, with some reports suggesting that the case gives employers carte blanche to review employees’ personal emails and messages. However, employees have a reasonable expectation of privacy and employers are still subject to laws on employee monitoring, including the Data Protection Act 1998. Therefore, employers should usually only monitor personal use of emails and messages where the employer suspects the employee has breached some law or one of the employer’s internal rules. It is therefore important for employers to ensure that their policies and procedures clearly set out what is acceptable for the use of internet and email. An employer with robust and comprehensive policies in place will be better positioned to justify taking action against an employee, where the employee is alleged to have committed an act of misconduct, using the internet or email.

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This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. It should not be used as a substitute for legal advice relating to your particular circumstances. Please note that the law may have changed since the date of this article.

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