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Engineer wins appeal against employer monitoring his emails

An engineer who was dismissed after his employer monitored his emails has won his appeal that his right to privacy had been breached.

The case involved a Romanian company that set up an IT system and Yahoo messenger account to enable employees to send work-related emails. It was against company policy to use the systems for private correspondence.

However, one engineer, Mr Barbelescu, regularly shared private messages with his friends, family and fiancé. The company became aware of his behaviour and started to monitor his emails. He was later dismissed.

He claimed that the company had infringed his human rights by invading his privacy.

The ECHR ruled against him. It held that in this case the monitoring of his private emails was a “proportionate interference” with his right to privacy.

Mr Barbelescu appealed and the Grand Chamber of the ECHR has now found in his favour. It held that the key point in the case was that an employee’s private life at work cannot be reduced to zero.

The Romanian courts had not given enough weight to important points such as whether Mr Barbelescu had received notice of the monitoring or whether the employer had established legitimate reasons for the monitoring, or considered less intrusive alternatives.

The case highlights the need for companies to have policies in place outlining their approach to the use of company systems for private use. If even limited monitoring is to take place, staff should be informed in advance.

The employer had not achieved the right balance between its right to uphold workplace discipline and the employee’s right to privacy.

Please contact us if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of employment law.

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