Employers’ new ability to snoop your personal messages during working hours.


2 February 2016

By Alexandra Dean

Employers can now legally snoop through your private messages that you send via webmail accounts and online chat software, including Facebook Messenger, iMessage and WhatsApp if the device used is owned by your employer, EU judges this week ruled.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) determined that an employer had not breached their employee's human rights in accordance with Article 8 (right to private life), having sacked their employee from discovering the employee had accessed his private messages during work hours. The court ruled that 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 Judges highlighted the importance for employers to have appropriate and lawful employee-monitoring policies in place and making sure both that they are communicated to employees and that they are adhered to by the employer. Such policies must also protect workers against unfettered snooping.

The ECHR decision binds all countries that have ratified the European Convention on Human Rights, which includes Britain. 

However, a key question remains. In the case before the ECHR, the device used to send the messages was owned by the employer. The ECHR did not elaborate if this decision would apply to a personal device. 

Therefore, a warning to employees! If your employer has appropriate and lawful employee-monitoring polices in place of which you are fully aware, your employer may not breach your Article 8 human right by snooping your private messages on a device owned by your employer during working hours.

This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues. At Gepp & Sons Solicitors we can advise on all aspects of employment law. For more information and guidance, please contact Alexandra Dean on 01245 228141 or email deana@gepp.co.uk.