October 12, 2017

Court Rules in Favour of Workplace-Email Privacy

A new legal precedent has been set across Europe following a ruling that employees are allowed a certain amount of privacy when sending and receiving workplace emails.

The case, heard in the European Court of Human Rights, originally relates to a Romanian engineer who was dismissed in 2007 for exchanging messages on an office account about his sexual health with his fiancée.

The ECHR judges agreed that the Romanian courts had not struck a “fair balance” between the worker’s right to a private life and his employer’s right to ensure he was following work rules.

His right to privacy, the judges declared, had been violated.

The ECHR grand chamber judgment said:

[An employer] cannot reduce private social life in the workplace to zero. Respect for private life and for the privacy of correspondence continues to exist, even if these may be restricted in so far as necessary."

The case is likely to be examined carefully and discussed by lawyers for some time with regards ever advancing forms of communication, the privacy of workers in the workplace, and the potential impact on every day workers’ rights.

How can I protect my email privacy in the workplace?

Following the simple steps below can help you protect your business and your employee’s privacy:

  1. Employers should have a robust and comprehensive policy relating to emails and privacy. This should be made available to all employees.

  2. The policy should clearly outline the dos and don’ts and what the company expects from employees’ communications. If the company does monitor emails and other forms of communication this should be clearly covered in the policy and the reasons for such monitoring clearly explained.

  3. Ensure that, so far as practicable, your employees keep work email confined to work.

What other advice is available on workplace-email privacy?

Further advice can be found on the government’s website, and whilst this is designed as a guide only it does provide a good starting point for employers.

The current advice is as follows:

Employers might monitor workers. This could be done in various ways, including:

  • CCTV
  • drug testing
  • bag searches
  • checking a worker’s emails or the websites they visit

However, it’s worth bearing in mind that data protection law covers any monitoring that involves taking data, images or drug testing. If workers are unhappy about being monitored, they can check their staff handbook or contract to see if the employer is allowed to do this.

Moorepay customers should contact the HR Advice Line on 0845 073 0240 for more support and advice on this topic.

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About the author

Stephen Johnson

Stephen has over 25 years experience in private sector HR and management roles, working as a Manager for over 10 years and eventually moving into the financial services industry. In his current role as an HR Policy Review Consultant he develops, reviews and maintains our clients’ employment documentation. With extensive knowledge of management initiatives and HR disciplines Stephen is commercially focused and supports clients in delivering their business objectives whilst minimising the risk of litigation.