Do your employees have the right to privacy in the workplace?


The recent European court of human rights judgment in the case of Barbulescu –v- Romania 2016  ECHR incited much media attention with much of the national press providing the misleading impression that employers can now legally snoop on your private emails.

Facts: Mr Barbulescu brought a claim contending that his employer had contravened his human rights, more specifically his right to respect for a private life.

At the request of his employer Mr Barbulescu had been requested to set up a yahoo messenger account to manage work enquiries. The Employer had a strict policy which forbade personal use of the internet. It was unclear throughout this case whether the Employers strict policy had been communicated to Mr Barbulescu. Mr Barbulescu was subsequently dismissed by the Company as a result of sending personal emails and messages during his work time.

Decision: Against this background it was decided that Mr Barbulescu’s right to private life had not been breached as the employer’s surveillance & monitoring was reasonable & proportionate.

What does this mean for employers?

Contrary to the headlines projected through the media. This decision does not give Employers carte blanche to monitor employee’s emails and messages. The lesson to note from this case is that the right to a private life is not breached where an employer exercises “reasonableness” when monitoring personal emails. The court in this instance did not deem it unreasonable for an employer to want to verify that it’s employees were completing their professional tasks during work hours. Employers must continue to have clear policies expressed on such matters and should communicate these clearly to it’s employees. The case also serves as an important reminder for Employers to have in place effective social media and IT policies.