Case law updates

ECHR says employer wrong to monitor private messages

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that a worker had his rights breached when his private emails were monitored by his employer without his knowledge. Romanian national Bogdan Bărbulescu was employed as a sales engineer  between August 2004 and August 2007. As part of the role he set up a Yahoo Messenger account to handle customers’ queries. In July 2007 Bărbulescu’s employer told him that his activity on this account had been monitored, showing that he had been using the internet for personal purposes. Upon denying it, he was then presented with transcripts of conversations to personal matters. He was dismissed for breaching the company’s internal regulations, prohibiting the use of company resources for personal purposes.

When the Romanian courts found against him, he took the case to the ECHR, arguing that the messages were protected by Article 8 – the right to respect for private and family life, the home and correspondence – of the European Convention on Human Rights. In a judgment in January 2016 the EHCR ruled that the Romanian courts had struck a fair balance between his rights and the interests of his employer.

However, on appeal to the ECHR’s grand chamber it has now been ruled that there was indeed a violation of Article 8. The national courts had failed to determine whether Bărbulescu had received prior notification that his messages might be monitored or to what extent. Moreover the national courts had failed to consider why the company had deemed it necessary to introduce monitoring in the first place, and whether it could have used measures less intrusive to the private life of the employee.