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Europe's New Internet Privacy Ruling Is Not A Licence To Snoop

Posted on Monday 18th January 2016 by Neil Andrews

Employers are toasting the European Court of Human Rights’ latest judgment on internet privacy.

Judges ruled against a Romanian engineer who claimed his employer violated his online privacy by reading his private Yahoo Messenger communications while he was at work.Neil Andrews - Partner, Coles Miller

Good news for employers…but only at a headline level. There’s a catch.

Employers should still exercise caution. The court’s decision is not a licence to snoop. It does not give you carte blanche to do what you like, warn employment law solicitors at Coles Miller.

That is because the court ruled that in this case (Barbulescu v Romania), the employer’s monitoring was “limited in scope and proportionate”.

Not an Orwellian free-for-all.

Also, not long before the employee was disciplined, a colleague had been dismissed for using the internet, phone and photocopiers for personal purposes. They had been warned their activity was under surveillance.

However, it is interesting to note that one of the judges dissented, quoting a previous document*: “Workers do not abandon their right to privacy and data protection every morning at the doors of the workplace.”

As an employer, you need rules in place for these scenarios - such as an IT policy that clearly details acceptable levels and types of internet usage and a social media policy.

Make sure all your employees have seen and understood these policies. Review them regularly. Alert your employees promptly about any amendments.

In the Romanian case, the employer dismissed the employee because he had broken documented company rules.

You won’t have that defence if you don’t have correctly documented policies in place. So make sure you are properly protected.

Worried about how online privacy laws affect you? Need to put policies in place? Get expert help from employment law solicitor Neil Andrews, a Partner at Coles Miller’s Poole office, 01202 355695.

* Article 29 Working Party Working Document on Surveillance and Monitoring of Electronic Communications in the Workplace, page 4.

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