Monday, 29 January 2018

Tread carefully with online messages

Employers should tread very carefully when it comes to monitoring their employees’ emails and messages, a local solicitor has warned.

Gemma Workman, from Martin-Kaye Solicitors in Telford, said employers should make their staff aware of any monitoring of their communications, as they could be guilty of breaching the employee’s right to privacy.

Her warning follows a court case where the European Court of Human Rights backed an employee who was dismissed after his employer found he’d been using a company online account to send private messages.

“In this case, the employee sent personal messages to his family, but he wasn’t informed that his emails and messages would be monitored.

“The court ruled that the employee’s privacy should have been protected by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees respect for private and family life, so the employee won his case.”

The case involved an employee who worked in sales and who was asked to set up a Yahoo Messenger account to answer client’s enquiries. He had been warned not to use it for private matters, but was found to have been using it to exchange personal messages with family members.

“The court’s ruling is a warning to employers that they need to think very carefully about why they need to monitor an employee’s emails and what they are trying to protect,” said Miss Workman. “Usually it’s to ensure they are complying with the law and their obligations, and so that’s likely to be a legitimate reason.

“But you must warn employees in advance that you might monitor their emails and text messages, and that you reserve the right to do so. You could refer to this right in the staff handbook so it’s absolutely clear.

“Another option for employers though is to block employees’ access to personal emails on their systems altogether, rather than retaining the right to review their private communications. It’s clear that employers need to tread very carefully when it comes to online messages, and that they must ensure their staff know exactly where they stand.”