Executive Briefings

European Court Limits Employers' Right to Monitor Workers

Europe's human rights court this week limited the ability of companies to read employees' email, overturning an earlier ruling that seemed to give them broad leeway in monitoring workplace communications.

In a decision with implications for labor law and workplace privacy across the region, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights ruled, 11 to 6, that a Romanian man's right to privacy was violated when he was fired from his job in 2007. He had used an online chat service to communicate with his brother and fiancée in violation of a ban on the use of company resources for personal purposes.

The court decision means that companies can monitor employees’ communications over work devices, if those employees are notified beforehand. Judges urged European governments to implement safeguards against abuse, and said that businesses should consider using forms of monitoring that avoid infringing on an employee’s privacy.

The case centered on Bogdan Mihai Barbulescu, who had created a Yahoo Messenger account to communicate with clients. But his bosses summoned him on July 13, 2007, confronting him with a week’s worth of chat transcripts in which he talked with his brother and fiancée about personal matters. Two weeks later, he was fired.

Romanian courts ruled against Barbulescu, who then brought his case to the European Court of Human Rights. In January 2016, the court ruled, 6 to 1, that the employer was justified in reading the chat history in the context of enforcing discipline. “It is not unreasonable for an employer to want to verify that the employees are completing their professional tasks during working hours,” it said at the time.

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In a decision with implications for labor law and workplace privacy across the region, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights ruled, 11 to 6, that a Romanian man's right to privacy was violated when he was fired from his job in 2007. He had used an online chat service to communicate with his brother and fiancée in violation of a ban on the use of company resources for personal purposes.

The court decision means that companies can monitor employees’ communications over work devices, if those employees are notified beforehand. Judges urged European governments to implement safeguards against abuse, and said that businesses should consider using forms of monitoring that avoid infringing on an employee’s privacy.

The case centered on Bogdan Mihai Barbulescu, who had created a Yahoo Messenger account to communicate with clients. But his bosses summoned him on July 13, 2007, confronting him with a week’s worth of chat transcripts in which he talked with his brother and fiancée about personal matters. Two weeks later, he was fired.

Romanian courts ruled against Barbulescu, who then brought his case to the European Court of Human Rights. In January 2016, the court ruled, 6 to 1, that the employer was justified in reading the chat history in the context of enforcing discipline. “It is not unreasonable for an employer to want to verify that the employees are completing their professional tasks during working hours,” it said at the time.

Read Full Article