HR BLOG: Ruling on Employee Privacy & Internet Use

EUROPEAN Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled last week that employers can read workers’ private messages sent via chat software and webmail accounts during working hours.

An engineer, Mr Barbulescu, was utilising his business messenger account to send communications to his family and partner, including very personal content! His employer discovered this by accident and dismissed him. After going through the Romanian Courts, Mr Babulescu took the case to the ECHR arguing that his right to respect of his private life and correspondence was breached by his employer monitoring his personal communications at work.

The Court did not agree, recognising the need for employers to be able to verify that employees are completing professional tasks during working hours, subject to proportionality.  This ruling does not however, give employers the right to force access to workers personal social media accounts or other communication accounts, particularly when used on their own devices. Although, there is scope for access being monitored if during work hours and on a work device.

Most employers are fairly flexible about employees using their computers and the internet to conduct personal tasks as long as it is in lunch or break times and is not excessive. But if this gets out of hand what do you, as an employer, do?

This judgment highlights the need and importance of ensuring that appropriate and lawful employee-monitoring policies are in place, covered in the employee contract and ensuring that they are communicated to employees and adhered to.

Merely letting the employees know that their activing is under surveillance may not be enough to provide the employee with sufficient information about the nature, scope and effects of the internet surveillance programme. A policy should identify the minimum element of an Internet usage and surveillance policy, including specific misconduct being monitored.

The HR Dept will do a FREE review of any IT and internet use at work policies that you have in place and check your staff contracts and make sure that you are covered.
Just contact us on 07535 853226.

Optional: In response to this ruling, if you don’t have an IT and internet policy in place, we will supply and implement one for you with a 10% discount, this offer will end on 31 January 2016.

For more info, visit HR Dept Durham and Darlington.