The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that employers have the right to monitor employees messages.

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The case involved Bogdan Mihai Barbulescu a Romanian engineer who was sacked after his employer monitored his messages sent through Yahoo Messenger. The Yahoo Messenger account was created by the company for purposes of assisting clients, but Barbulescu used the account to communicate with professional contacts as well as his fiancée and his brother.

The case dates back to 2007 when Barbulescu was told by his employer that his chats have been monitored. Based on a company policy, Barbulescu was fired because the Yahoo Messenger account was only suppose to be used for company and work-related purposes.

The court ruled Barbulescu’s right to privacy was not infringed and ruled in favour of his former employer. The court held that it was not unreasonable for an employer to monitor employees messages for purposes of ensuring that they are “completing their professional tasks during working hours“.

The court went on to clarify that the company had accessed the Yahoo Messenger account with the intention of getting information related to professional activities. The court didn’t elaborate whether it would’ve come to a different conclusion if the employer had accessed the employee’s personal account. In its judgement the court only focussed on the fact that the Yahoo Messenger account was in the company’s name and was to be used for company purposes only. The court held that:

The employer acted within its disciplinary powers since, as the domestic courts found, it had accessed the Yahoo Messenger account on the assumption that the information in question had been related to professional activities and that such access had therefore been legitimate.

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