A protracted nine-year legal battle over an employee’s human rights, after he was caught using social media at work for a private chat, has finally concluded.
The European Court of Human Rights ruled by a majority of 11 votes to six that the Romanian authorities had not protected the rights of an employee who was dismissed after using a Yahoo Messenger account that his employer had created for employees to use for work purposes, to send personal messages.
Although the case of Bărbulescu v Romania, ruled on the individual’s human rights, many legal experts believe it tests an employer’s right to monitor their workers’ conversations.
An earlier court judgment last year found that the employer’s monitoring was ‘reasonable in the context of disciplinary proceedings’.
However, the European Court’s Grand Chamber has ruled that a person’s human rights to a private and family life and correspondence was applicable. It decided therefore that the Romanian courts had not struck a fair balance between the worker’s human rights and the employer’s entitlement to put in place measures to ensure the business ran smoothly.
Lara Murray, an Associate and employment law expert with Palmers, said: “This ruling does not give workers carte blanche to conduct private phone calls and chats via social media in the workplace. Anyone doing so can still be disciplined if the employer has made it clear in their employee handbook that such behaviour is against company policy.
“However, the judgment does not give employers free rein to spy on their workers as they have a duty to ensure that, if they monitor workplace communications, such practices must not go beyond what is necessary for legitimate reasons.
“Employees should receive prior notice of such monitoring, and there should also be safeguards in place to preserve their privacy. It is worth noting that in this case, it was not proven that the employer had given prior warning to the employee that their use of social media may be monitored.”
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