European Human Rights Court Says Employers Can Read Your Private Messages Sent at Work

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The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled this week that employers have a right to read employees private messages sent via chat software during working hours.

The case concerned a Romanian engineer employed at a private company who was fired from his job for using company resources for personal purposes, according to a statement issued by the ECHR on Tuesday. In 2007 Bogdan Mihai Bărbulescu had private conversations over Yahoo Messenger, which he had set up on his employer’s request, to communicate with clients. It is unclear if Bărbulescu was given any prior warnings to being let go on Aug. 1, 2007.

With employees working longer hours and many bringing personal devices to work, these kinds of issues will continue to pop up. Monitoring technology also continues to become more sophisticated, which gives employers new tools to monitor employees’ behavior. Earlier this week, staff at UK newspaper The Telegraph complained that motion-trackers under their desks were being used to monitor bathroom breaks and “real-time space utilization.”

Read more: UK Mass Surveillance Doesn’t Violate Human Rights, Tribunal Says

The human rights court “did not find it unreasonable that an employer would want to verify that employees were completing their professional tasks during working hours and noted that the employer had accessed Mr Bărbulescu’s account in the belief that it contained client-related communications,” according to a press release.

“Notably, the domestic courts had used the transcript of his communications only to the extent that it proved that he had used the company’s computer for his own private purposes during working hours and the identity of the people with whom he had communicated was not revealed.”

According to the BBC, the device used to send the messages was owned by the employer, but the judges did not elaborate on whether the ruling would have been different if he was using a personal device.

One of the 8 judges disagreed with the decision and said that all employers should “clearly explain any rules that would allow them to check on their workers’ online activities.” In addition, employees should explicitly consent to the measures employers would use to monitor whether or not they are compliant.

What do you think? Should employers be allowed to monitor private conversations as long as they are during working hours? Let us know in the comments.

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