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Top European Court: Employer Was Wrong to Monitor Private Messages

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that an employee’s rights were breached when his private messages were monitored by his employer without his knowledge.

The employee was dismissed for personal internet use at work, contrary to the employer’s IT policy. As part of the investigation the employer accessed intimate messages sent by the employee to his fiancée and his brother. These messages were printed by the employer and used in the disciplinary proceedings.

In its decision, the ECHR set out the factors to be considered when assessing the monitoring of workplace communications. These include providing clear advance notification about the potential monitoring. In this case the employee had not been informed of the nature and extent of the monitoring, or of the possibility that the employer may access the actual content of messages.

This decision means that employers have to be careful about disciplinary action relating to the abuse of IT at work. Clear policies and communication to employees will be key.

If you have any queries in relation to this decision please contact Karl Thomas, Partner and Employment Law Specialist at Loosemores Solicitors.

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