Employers must ensure human resources policies are watertight following a landmark decision in the European courts. That’s the advice from leading food and drink sector law firm Roythornes Solicitors after the judgement in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) created a precedent that employers can, under specific circumstances, justify reading workers’ private online messages.
It follows a case in which an employee was using Yahoo Messenger to talk to friends and professional contacts whilst at work. The court ruled that employers had the right to check that employees were completing their work and therefore the right to monitor such messaging. They also found the employee had breached the company’s rules by sending messages on its time. The employee was dismissed because the company’s policies stated that employees were forbidden from using computers and other equipment for personal purposes. As a legal precedent, the decision takes effect immediately as it has ratified the European Convention on Human Rights.
Roythornes’ Maz Dannourah, an associate who specialises in employment law, said: “Clearly the company in this case was protected because it had policies in place that governed the monitoring of staff communications and the use of equipment. “If companies do not have such policies in place they should talk to an employment expert urgently and, even if they do have such policies in place, they should check they are watertight. “Because this ruling has been established via legal precedent it comes into effect immediately so there is no time to waste.” According to reports of the case, the employee believed his right to confidential correspondence had been breached when his employers presented him with a 45 page transcript of his messages, some of which were personal and to relatives.
However, the court ruled that it would not be unreasonable for an employer to want to ensure that employees were carrying out the tasks they were paid for and, by accessing the messages, they were simply doing so. The Court did, however, rule that their decision did not give employers the power for unregulated monitoring of private messages and that a set of policies should be drawn up stating what communications can be accessed and for what reasons.