Judge says employers can read workers' private messages
Employers can read private messages sent over the internet by workers during office hours, European judges have ruled.
In a case put before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), judges ruled that a company which had read an employee's messages sent through Yahoo Messenger while he was at work was within its rights to do so.
The ruling said the man, an engineer in Romania, had breached company policy and his employer had a right to check if he was completing his work.
The employee had asked the court to rule the employer had breached his right to confidential correspondence when it accessed his messages in 2007, before sacking him after discovering he had used the app to chat to his fiancee and brother as well as professional contacts.
This was denied, with the judges outlining that it was not "unreasonable that an employer would want to verify that employees were completing their professional tasks during working hours".
The company's policy had also prohibited the use of the messaging app for personal conversations.
They added: "The employer acted within its disciplinary powers since, as the domestic courts found, it had accessed the Yahoo Messenger account on the assumption that the information in question had been related to professional activities and that such access had therefore been legitimate. The court sees no reason to question these findings."
The ruling affects all EU countries that have ratified the European Convention on Human Rights, which includes Britain.
In passing down the ruling, the judges also said that unregulated snooping on employees would not be acceptable, and called on a set of polices to be drawn up by employers that would clearly state what information they could collect and how.