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Employers must still be careful when monitoring staff emails

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that an employer had been entitled to dismiss an engineer who used the company’s email system to communicate with his family.

However, businesses should not see that as a green light for casual monitoring of staff emails.

The case involved a Romanian company that set up an IT system and Yahoo messenger account to enable employees to send work-related emails. It was against company policy to use the systems for private correspondence.

However, the engineer regularly shared private messages with his friends, family and fiancé. The company became aware of his behaviour and started to monitor his emails. He was later dismissed.

He claimed that the company had infringed his human rights by invading his privacy.

The ECHR ruled against him. It held that in this case the monitoring of his private emails was a “proportionate interference” with his right to privacy.

The case is good news for employers who fear their systems are being abused by staff sending private emails when they should be working. However, it doesn’t mean that monitoring will be acceptable in all circumstances.

Companies should have policies in place outlining their approach to the use of company systems for private use. If even limited monitoring is to take place, staff should be informed in advance, as they were in this case.

Please contact us if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of employment law.