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Court says employers can read staff personal emails

27 January 2016 by Michelle Lewis 0 Comments

The European Court of Human Rights has set an interesting precedent for workplace internet use by ruling in favour of a company that accessed its employee's personal online communications.

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Private chat during work hours

The case, reported in ITNews last week, was originally brought forward in 2007. The court argued that a Romanian company was within its rights to access messages sent by an employee via Yahoo Messenger during work hours.

Judges said it was legal because the employer had the right to "check the manner in which its employees complete their professional tasks".

Even though he was using Yahoo Messenger to chat with his fiancee and brother as well as professional contacts, company policy prohibited the use of the messaging app for personal purposes.

The European Court dismissed the engineer's argument that the company had violated his right to confidential correspondence saying it was not "unreasonable that an employer would want to verify that employees were completing their professional tasks during working hours", adding that the company looked at the messages thinking they contained professional messages.

Chat logs used in court

Defending the decision by Romania's courts to allow chat logs of the engineer's communications to be used against him in court, judges explained, "it proved that he had used the company's computer for his own private purposes during working hours."

The court said that by withholding the identities of the people with whom he had communicated, Romania's courts ruled fairly, accounting for a respect for privacy and the interests of the employer.

The ruling has brought into the spotlight questions surrounding how employers deal with the separation of personal and work life on accounts that are used outside the office.

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