Can employers read private messages sent on work systems?

12 Feb 2016

Some of the media coverage of the recent human rights case involving a Romanian national who was dismissed after his employer accessed his personal messages suggests that employers have a green light to snoop on employees personal communications. The reality is a little more subtle, as we will explain.

The individual, Mr B, was dismissed in 2007 after his employer had monitored his use of a work Yahoo Messenger account for several days and found clear proof that he had used its for personal purposes, contrary to the employer’s policy that forbade all personal use. Mr B complained that this decision had been null and void because, by accessing his communications, his employer had violated his right to private correspondence under Romanian law. The Romanian courts dismissed his complaints and the case eventually ended up in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), centring on his right to respect for private and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The ECHR held that the monitoring and use of the personal messages was a proportionate interference with his Article 8 rights. However, the case did not override previously established principles of European and UK law:

  • monitoring must be for a legitimate work-related purpose e.g. to monitor performance or conduct • ad hoc “fishing” for personal content is not lawful 
  • monitoring must be proportionate and balance the rights of the parties 
  • there is no automatic right to read personal communications and their content should normally remain private unless there is has some legitimate connection with e.g. an employee sending confidential information to a third party or personal account.

Further reading

Destination: office?

Blog, News & PR
29/07/2021
Emily Wood considers the results of our recent survey and the implications for the future of the post-pandemic workplace
Read more Read

Commercial lease renewals and pandemic clauses

Blog
28/07/2021
Will commercial reality trump the law when leases are up for renewal? Property expert James Picknell takes a look
Read more Read

Permitted Development Rights and the revised NPPF: Article 4 directions

Blog, Legal Updates
22/07/2021
A revised National Planning Policy Framework has just been published. Holly Stevenson focuses on the change to Article 4 Directions
Read more Read

Can commercial lessees now ‘relax’ given the extended Government moratorium on forfeiture for non payment of rent?

Legal Updates
20/07/2021
Property Litigation Partner, Keith Pearlman, doesn't think so and explains why they could be in for a nasty shock from 1 October of this year
Read more Read
  • Brighton Office

    1 Jubilee Street

    Brighton

    East Sussex

    BN1 1GE

  • Gatwick Office

    Griffin House

    135 High Street

    Crawley

    West Sussex

    RH10 1DQ

  • Guildford Office

    Wonersh House

    The Guildway

    Old Portsmouth Road

    Guildford

    Surrey

    GU3 1LR

  • Horsham Office

    Ridgeland House

    15 Carfax

    Horsham

    West Sussex

    RH12 1DY

  • London Office

    6 New Street Square

    New Fetter Lane

    London

    EC4A 3BF

  • Get in touch