Case Law Update: Employers’ rights to read emails

Dispute Resolution - 1 minute read

This decision in the European Court of Human Rights has clarified the law on this important balance between individuals’ privacy and the need for employers to protect their interests.

In short, an employer wishing to monitor an employee’s private communications should:

  • Ensure monitoring is necessary to protect its interests
  • Ensure its policies clearly state:
    • Which communications can be monitored, and when
    • Who can carry out monitoring, and how it takes place, ensuring it is limited and proportionate

The Case?: Bărbulescu v. Romania (application no. 61496/08)

Parts of the press have claimed this case gave employers an unlimited right to read employees' electronic communications but this is not so. The case merely reinforces the existing legal principle in the UK that employers can monitor private communications provided the monitoring is limited in scope and is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim – ie it strikes the right balance between an employee's general right to privacy and an employer's right to ensure its communication systems are not being abused.