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Employers advice about monitoring of personal emails

04/02/2016

A court ruling that rejected a man’s claim that having his internet use monitored by his employer breached his human rights has been welcomed by a Midlands lawyer.

Tracy Worthington an employment law specialist at FBC Manby Bowdler, said it was a clear indication that, in some cases, it can be reasonable for employers to check staff internet use and read personal messages where they suspect an employee is abusing IT services during work time.

Her comments follow the recent case of a Romanian man who took his employer to court claiming it had violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to respect for private and family life, the home and correspondence) by scrutinising his internet use at work.

He was dismissed for using the internet for personal purposes, contrary to internal regulations, and took his case to the Romanian County Court. He lost and appealed to the European court which recently ruled against him.

But Tracey warned that monitoring must always be “proportionate and legitimate” or employers could be left without legal grounds to support any investigations.

“In this case, the European Court of Human Rights concluded that a fair balance had been struck between the employee’s right to respect for his private life and the employer’s interests,” she said.

“But, remember that monitoring must always be proportionate and legitimate. If this balance is not struck, then employers will find themselves in breach of Article 8, as well as being at risk of other employment claims, for example for a breach of the implied duty of trust and confidence between employer and employee.”

Employers also need to make sure they have an information technology and communications policy that is clearly communicated to staff.

Tracey added: “Even where surveillance is proportionate and legitimate, the employee must also have been put on notice that their privacy is being restricted in this particular way.

“Monitoring employees email and internet use also raises other issues as it must comply with Data Protection rules. Remember, when it comes to data protection it is not enough just to inform employees you are processing personal data. You also must explain, for instance, your reasons for doing so, how the information will be used, and how it will be stored and protected.”

FBC Manby Bowdler has offices in Wolverhampton and Willenhall as well as Shrewsbury, Telford and Bridgnorth.

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