Partner, Andrew Bryan, draws our attention to a recent ruling by the European Court of Human Rights concerning a company’s responsibilities in respect of their employee email policies. Andrew says “the ECHR ruling in case of Bogdan Bărbulescu could shape the extent to which firms can monitor employees’ private communications”. In essence, the court ruling says that not only must a company policy inform employees that they reserve the right to monitor employee emails, but they must also advise employees when they are doing so.
The case in question related to a Romanian man dismissed for using a company Yahoo messaging account to text his family. The company had presented Mr Bărbulescu with printouts of his private messages to his brother and fiancée on Yahoo Messenger as evidence of his breach of the company ban on such personal use. He had previously told his employer in writing that he had only used the service for professional purposes.
Although the courts found nothing wrong with the company's decision to terminate the employment, it found that Mr Bărbulescu's private correspondence should not have been intercepted because his company had not given prior notice that it was monitoring his communications.
This ruling comes after European data privacy authorities ruled that employers may not sift through workers' social media accounts unless for narrowly-defined, work-related purposes. In a guidance statement, they indicated that “employers should not assume that merely because an individual's social media profile is publicly available they are then allowed to process those data for their own purposes. A legal ground is required for this processing, such as legitimate interest."
Although the ruling has no direct effect in British or EU law, experts say that it will establish a significant precedent in the evolution of digital privacy rules at work.
Andrew comments: “companies need to review their office manuals and IT policies and practices as a matter of urgency in light of this ruling”.
If you would like assistance in relation to an employment matter, call Andrew on 02392 820747 for further information.