The High Court has ruled that an employer did not breach a worker’s privacy rights after accessing personal information sent by email from an office computer.
In the case of Simpkin v The Berkeley Group Holdings PLC, an employee sent an email from his work email account to his personal email account, along with an attachment which contained personal details about an incentive plan offered by his employer.
Mr Simpkin then forwarded the email from his personal account to his solicitor to obtain advice in relation to divorce proceedings.
Mr Simpkin subsequently made an application to restrain the use of this same document in the context of an employment dispute, arguing that it was ‘privileged’ information.
The Court was asked to consider whether the document in question was confidential between the employer and the employee.
A judge at the High Court ruled that no employee should reasonably expect personal documents saved to a folder on an employer’s server to remain ‘private’.
In particular, the court took the decision that Simpkin had signed the company’s IT policy which made it clear that emails sent and received on its IT system were the employer’s property.
Additionally, his employment contract stated that his emails were subject to monitoring without his consent.
“Furthermore, the document was created in the course of Simpkin’s employment while he was at the employer’s office and had been saved in a folder on one of the employer’s central servers.”
Lara Murray, an employment law expert with Palmers, said: “Although this case does not provide employers with a ‘charter to snoop’, it does illustrate the importance of having in place a properly drafted employee handbook which clearly sets out both acceptable IT usage and the company’s monitoring policy.
“Setting out clearly what will and will not be tolerated in the workplace avoids any confusion, or indeed the prospect of litigation at a later date.”
For advice on all aspects of employment law including help with drafting legally compliant employee handbooks or issues relating to disciplinary proceedings, please contact us.