In a recent judgement the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that it is acceptable for an employer to monitor their network including any employee’s private online communications.
In this case the plaintiff, who claimed a breach of his human rights, had been communicating to his fiancé and brother – on a work computer, during working hours, using a messaging app setup for work purposes. Brought to light during dismissal proceedings these private communications were shown as breach of company policy which banned all members of staff from sending personal messages during working hours.
The court in Strasbourg ruled against the sacked staff member saying that it was not “unreasonable that an employer would want to verify that employees were completing their professional tasks during working hours”; similar to recent US rulings that employers have a right to look at the contents of an employee’s computer.
While judgements made by the European Court of Human Rights are binding, in the UK the ruling could be limited to unauthorised use of work devices during working hours for private communication.
Check your employer’s workplace policy as some employers allow for “reasonable personal use” of company systems, such as outside work hours, while others may impose a complete ban.
Your employer must inform you if it intends to monitor emails or internet use, either in your employment contract or workplace communication policy.
If your company operates a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy, it must provide full details on the monitoring of communications when an employee makes use of their own device for work purposes.
Employers should also consider how their policies effect staff motivation and productivity to ensure the best efficacy.
It’s a Private Conversation
While the employers’ ability to either monitor private conversations or impose a complete embargo during working hours may be unpopular – it is completely legal.
If you don’t want your employers reading your personal messages, then only communicate using your own device in your own time.