The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Barbulescu v Romania ruled that companies are allowed to monitor employees private online communications during working hours. The case involved the dismissal of a Romanian employee from a private company for the use of a work related Yahoo account to send personal messages to his fiancée and brother. Mr Barbulescu argued that his right to privacy under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights had been violated. The Romanian court upheld the dismissal and the ECHR held that the monitoring of his online use was proportionate. Company policy was clear on the use of the Yahoo account for work purposes only.
Contrary to some media reports the case has not actually given employers carte blanche to spy on employees personal email use as existing ECHR case law and national legislation especially in the UK already places limitations in this area. It does highlight the importance of clear workplace guidance in such matters.
Going forwards employees should be made aware from the outset of their employment about any monitoring that may be undertaken by the employer and the reasons why it might be done. Employers should include this within their employment contracts and codes of conduct. The important point to note in the judgment is that the employee was using Yahoo messenger on their work computer. Employers do not have a right to access your personal computer or phone, however employees should be made aware that if they install apps such as Facebook or Whatsapp on their work phones or if they access these platforms on their work computer/ laptop, these will fall under their employer's rules of employment and may be subject to surveillance and possible repercussions.
Barbulescu v Romania - 61496/08  ECHR 61 can be found on Bailii here.