The claim of an employee fired after the employer, accessing to his corporate email account, found that it was used for private purposes and not for fulfilling the work duties, was rejected
Control of corporate e-‐mail by the employer is indeed an interference with the right to privacy, but is compatible with the Convention on Human Rights if proportionate and limited in scope.
This is the outcome of the European Court of Human Rights’ ruling filed on January 12, 2016, about the case Barbulescu against Romania.
A Romanian citizen turned to the judges of Strasbourg as his employer fired him after discovering that the corporate email account had been used for personal purposes.
Preliminary, the Court recognized that e-‐mails shall be considered as correspondence, thus falling within the scope of Article 8 of the Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the right to respect for private life and communications .
By assessing the proportionality of the interference, however, the Court stressed the need to distinguish between the personal and the corporate account of the employee, since the employer is entitled to check the proper performance by the employees of the work-‐related tasks assigned. But more than that, the employer accessed the worker’s account by legitimately believing that it contained only client-‐ related communications. A decisive factor, according to the judges, who also pointed out that the company did not check other data or documents, thus proving the reasonableness and proportionality of the processing carried out.
Finally, during the various actions brought at national level in order to ascertain whether a privacy violation occured, the employee has never explained why he had used the business account for personal purposes, despite the relevant employer’s express prohibition.
All the above brought to the decision to consider lawful the access to the email made by the company in order to protect its business interests.