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Reading Private Emails – Is it allowed?
You may have heard of the relatively recent ruling European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) that an organisation was within its rights to read a worker’s personal messages sent whilst he was at work. However, you are advised that this does not give employers a “Carte Blanche” right to snoop on employees and will always depend on the facts of the case.

Romanian engineer, Bogdan Bărbulescu, was dismissed for using his Yahoo Messenger email account – created specifically for work purposes at his company's request – to send personal emails during working hours.

He claimed that his employer had violated his right to correspondence and was in breach of the Romanian Constitution and Criminal Code by accessing his communications. However, his complaint was dismissed on grounds that his employer had complied with dismissal proceedings and the employee had been informed of company regulations.

Bărbulescu appealed, claiming his e-mails were protected by Article 8 (the right to respect for private and family life, the home and correspondence.) The Court of Appeal held that in this particular case the employer’s conduct had been reasonable and that monitoring had been the only way to establish whether a disciplinary breach had occurred.

It should be made clear to employees that their employers' systems are not there for the private use of employees, and employees can and should expect that their company has access to any information transferred via them. Therefore if you are going to monitor messages, you need to be transparent about why you are doing it and why, for example, being clear on the risks that the monitoring is designed to prevent. Employers should also set out clear rules around what personal use they do allow and what the limitations on this may be, such as the hours in which it is permitted. Make sure this is clear in your Employee Handbook.

If you need assistance reviewing and updating your email and social media policy, please get in touch.
Posted on 19 Nov 2016

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