The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that employers have the right to monitor their employee’s private messages on social media.
The case concerns the use of social media by a Romanian Engineer, Mr Barbulescu. He was fired after his employer compiled a 45 page report on his communications with his fiancée and brother.
Mr Barbulescu claimed that his right to privacy had been violated but the court ruled that “it was not unreasonable that an employer would want to verify that employees were completing their professional tasks during working hours”.
Although the court made it clear that the employee had breached company policy, it added that employers could not indulge in unregulated monitoring of worker’s messages. The court advised that employers should draw up policies that state what information will be collected and how it will be used.
The blurring of the line between work and social life presents the employer with some interesting challenges regarding the individual’s right to privacy in the workplace. Employees have a legitimate expectation of personal privacy which is not overridden by the fact that the phone, laptop, or tablet may be provided by the employer. However, this right may be balanced with the interests of the employer:
- To protect their business and reputation;
- To reduce the risk of theft or damage at the employer’s premises;
- To prevent abuse of social networking sites, e-mail or text;
- To prevent cases of cyber bullying in the workplace.