ECHR protects workers’ rights to privacy

In 2016 in the case of Barbulescu v Romania, the ECHR controversially ruled in favour of the Romanian employer who had monitored an employee’s Yahoo messenger account without telling him that he was doing so. The employee had known he could not use his work computer for personal use and the ECHR ruled that the employer had therefore acted lawfully.
On an appeal by the employee to the Grand Chamber of the ECHR (an unusual event in itself), that judgement was overturned in favour of the employee and the Grand Chamber ruled that workers should have a right to expect that their privacy will be respected in the workplace.  For employers, this ruling is significant. It means that while prohibiting the use of work computers for personal purposes may well be part of an employer’s work policy, an employer may not monitor an employee’s private emails and messages as a matter of course. Instead, employers should inform their employees and workers, in writing, that their communications may be monitored, and may not simply rely upon a general workplace policy that prohibits the use of work computers and systems for personal purposes. 
The decision demonstrates an increasing emphasis upon the respect for personal privacy, which is well reflected in the General Data Protection Regulation, which will come into effect on 25th May 2018. 
For more information about privacy at work, please contact Jamie Laidler on, telephone +44 (0)20 7242 0631.