What rights does an employer have when it comes to monitoring employees’ emails and Internet activity? Where is the balance between an employer protecting its’ business and the employee’s right to privacy?
Recently, the Grand Chamber (the ultimate court of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR)) overturned a 2016 decision made by the Chamber of the ECHR in the case of Barbulescu v Romania, in which the employer monitored the employee’s Yahoo messenger account, where he was exchanging personal messages with his brother and his fiancée. In this case, Mr Barbelescu knew he wasn’t allowed to use company equipment for personal reasons, but the organisation had failed to inform him that his communications were being monitored, therefore breaching the employee’s right to respect for privacy in the workplace.
Why check up on employees?
There are many reasons why you may wish to monitor the use of employees’ email and Internet activity, including protecting employees from bullying or harassment, and, although employers are not obliged to allow personal use of its’ computer equipment, many do so as long as it doesn’t disrupt the employees’ work.
So, what can an employer do to protect their business?
Ensure that clear policies regarding Internet and email usage are in place
Communicate the policies to all employees
Block access to forbidden websites
Inform employees if they are being monitored
Communicate to employees the purpose of monitoring
Make sure that employees are aware that if policies are not adhered to, then they may be subject to disciplinary action
Should an employer choose to monitor their employees’ email and Internet activity at any time, this should always be done in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998.
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