A ruling by the European Court of Human Rights led to confusion earlier this year as the media reported that the ruling will allow for employers to read private communication written by employees.
However, employment law experts have argued that that the ruling is in line with current UK law, and that it does not give employers permission to read personal communications on chat applications such as Whatsapp and Yahoo Messenger and email accounts.
The worker involved in the case is an engineer from Romania who was sacked after his employer discovered he was using a Yahoo Messenger account set up to communicate with work clients to also send personal messages in 2007.
The engineer, Bogdan Barbulescu, argued that his employer had breached his right to confidential correspondence and a private life, but the ECHR in Strasbourg ruled that Barbulescu had broken clear rules set by his employer, and that they had every right to check on activities on his account which had been set up for work activities.
The ruling, which happened on January 12th, led to panic and confusion about employers accessing employees’ private accounts. However, the ins and outs of the case detail that the specific rule Barbulescu broke was using a work account to send private messages, rather than sending private messages on a private account.
The judges made their decision based on the fact that the employee was specifically using a work account, and commented that it was not "unreasonable that an employer would want to verify that employees were completing their professional tasks during working hours"
The ruling does not mean that companies will be allowed to intercept personal communications on accounts made for private use, as reported widely by the media. However, the ruling has started a discussion on the fairness of ‘blanket bans’ on using the internet for personal use by employers, which is often viewed as unreasonable, particularly for those who work long hours.