The ECHR has ruled on the monitoring of Internet use by an employee during working hours but the impact of the judgment is less far-reaching than some journalists have presumed.
A Romanian employee was dismissed because he had used his Messenger account for personal communication, while this was prohibited by company rules. The Romanian courts considered this dismissal to be lawful.
In a judgment of 12 January 2016, the ECHR ruled that the decision of the Romanian courts was not a violation of article 8 of the Convention (the right to privacy). The Court validated the Romanian court’s reasoning that because personal use was prohibited, the employer had acted within its disciplinary powers when he had accessed the Messenger account on the assumption that the information in question had been related to professional activities, and that such access, therefore, had been legitimate. The Court found that it was not unreasonable for an employer to want to verify that the employees are completing their professional tasks during working hours. The Court also attached importance to the fact that the Romanian courts had not examined the (private) content of the communications. The transcripts were only used to prove the disciplinary breach.
Is this judgment important? Absolutely. But does this judgment unambiguously allow employers to monitor employees’ e-mails and internet use, as some newspapers reported over the weekend? No, that is not what the judgement says. The existence and observance of a transparent IT policy, which addresses the question of monitoring is still strongly recommended. The judgment, however, may be helpful in those situations where there is no policy or the policy was not observed.