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Keep It Confidential

Date: Mar 4, 2016

When you are seeking a new position you may not want your current boss to be amongst the first to know that you plan to move on.  However a recent ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has confirmed that employers have the right to monitor the electronic messages sent by employees from work accounts.  

Therefore, if you use your employer’s messaging accounts for such personal matters, there is a real risk that your manager may learn about your plans sooner than you might wish them to.  The ECHR decided that the company was acting within its legitimate disciplinary powers and held it is not ‘unreasonable for an employer to want to verify that the employees are completing their professional tasks during working hours’.

The case in question involved a Romanian engineer who was dismissed for sending personal messages to his fiancée via his Yahoo messaging account, which his employer had asked him to set up for use in relation to his work.  His employer had made it clear that all members of staff were prohibited from sending personal messages during working time.

The message for employees is clear – if your employer has informed you that such messaging activity or personal use of corporate IT resources is forbidden and that it may monitor usage then your employer may be able to view your personal messages without breaching your right to privacy.  To be safe you should send such private communications from a personal account.

The vast majority of our candidates already take care to ensure their dealings with us (and with potential future employers) are kept confidential by observing such precautions.  However we all spend so much of our time using work email and other company messaging accounts that they become a familiar part of our everyday life and we may unthinkingly use them for private messages too.  At busy times it is easy to forget that they may not be as private as we might wish so it is essential to follow your employer’s rules regarding personal communications.

However the ECHR decision is not a green light for unregulated snooping and reputable employers should not be surreptitiously monitoring their employees’ personal communications.  The ECHR judgement includes this warning: “If the employer’s internet monitoring breaches the internal data protection policy or the relevant law or collective agreement, it may entitle the employee to terminate his or her employment and claim constructive dismissal, in addition to pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages”.  Businesses should be clear about their policies on personal use of IT resources and messaging accounts, communicate them to staff in advance of implementation and be consistent in applying them, as well as generally taking care not to breach data protection rules.

Bob Boad, Associate Director, Marlow IP Recruitment


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