Employers’ right to monitor employees’ communication


2 October, 2017 - The judgment of Barbulescu v. Romania which was recently delivered by the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (‘ECtHR’), has shed light onto an employer’s right to monitor employees’ activities in the workplace.

The facts of the case related to a man who had been dismissed from his job for using a work messaging account to communicate with his family during work hours. The employee had been asked by his employer to create a messaging account to respond to clients’ enquiries and was not made aware that his employer was monitoring the messages sent from this account. 

The ECtHR concluded that there must be a balance between the right to privacy of an employee and the legitimate interests of the employer. In this case, the employer had accessed the messages contained in the messaging account believing it would contain messages relating to the employee’s professional capacity and his professional relationships with clients. The

ECtHR went on to limit the employer’s right to access employees’ private communication by distinguishing this particular case from other situations where employees might have a reasonable expectation of privacy. This reasonable expectation might arise where an employer doesn’t provide warning that there will be monitoring of an employee’s means of communication at the workplace.

Thus insofar as the employer’s interference is limited and proportionate it will not be considered a breach. However it is in the interests of employers to advise their employees on the company’s internal policies with regards to the usage of work related communication devices for personal purposes.

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