Be aware! Today’s decision of the European Court of Human Rights (“ECHR”) may force companies to rethink their policies on private internet use of their employees at work (No. 61496/08).

The Straßburg court held a termination for private internet use is illegal. What’s new and striking is that the Rumanian employee chatted with family friends using his business email account.

Over the past few years employers took various measures de-linking private from business internet use to follow urgent compliance needs. In many instances, they introduced strictly separated internet access to allow legitimate monitoring of pure business accounts to follow, among other things, the increasing demands of their own e-discovery officers.

Does today’s decision of the ECHR put an end to all practical and legitimate chat and email monitoring of business accounts for compliance needs? The answer is no. But the ECHR stressed that employers must take appropriate measures when monitoring employee’s communications and ensure that such measures are accompanied by adequate and sufficient safeguards against abuse.

In sum, today’s decision may sound more alarming than it is at first glance. Beyond the particular ruling in this Rumanian case, however, the other member states will have to bring their systems to comply with it. National authorities will not be able to ignore the criteria specified by the ECHR when assessing monitoring procedures and devices.