An employer who accessed intimate messages between an employee, his fiancée and his brother sent in working time on Yahoo! Messenger had unreasonably restricted the rights of staff to use the internet for personal purposes, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights has held (overturning a previous decision that this employee monitoring was proportional and justified). The Romanian courts had not struck a fair balance between the employee’s right to a private life with the employer’s right to conduct its business.

UK law allows employers to conduct minimal and proportionate monitoring of communications sent using an employer’s electronic communications systems during business hours for specified business purposes (for example, checking that employees are complying with internet policies). In some circumstances, it may be possible to access the contents of the communications. The judgment in Barbulescu v Romania underlines the importance of clearly communicating your monitoring policies to employees.