The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has decided that in certain circumstances it is not a breach of privacy rights under the Convention for employers to monitor the private correspondence of employees at work (Barbulescu v Romania).
Mr Barbulescu was asked by his employer to set up a Yahoo Messenger account for the purposes of responding to client's enquiries. Employer monitoring showed that the account Mr Barbulescu used the account for personal correspondence. This was in breach of the employer's internal regulations and Mr Barbulescu was dismissed.
The ECtHR, by majority of six to one, decided that the employer had a legitimate interest in verifying whether the employee was getting work done and that the employer's monitoring was "limited in scope and proportionate" to its aim.
This case raises concerns for both employees and employers. For employees, it is a warning that under certain circumstances privacy rights may be outweighed by an employer's legitimate interest in monitoring employee activity. However, the decision by no means gives employers carte blanche to monitor employee emails, this needs to be justified.