ECHR ruling highlights the need for clear policies on employees' private communications

Employers need to set clear guidelines on using work communication systems for private messages in the light of a European court ruling that a Romanian firm unfairly sacked an employee and violated his privacy by monitoring his messages.

The ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Bogdan Mihai Barbulescu's dismissal ten years ago has implications for all employers now – even though ECHR rulings are persuasive, not binding, on Jersey/Guernsey courts.

Advocate Daniel Read from Ogier's top-tier employment law team said that the ruling did not mean employers were prohibited from monitoring staff communications or dismissing staff for misusing work email accounts – but said that it did underline the importance of having clearly understood policies in place, including clear notification to employees that their communication and use of work systems may be monitored.

He said: "This case underlines how important it is that employees are told how, why and when their communications may be monitored – and also that employers understand that there are strict legal limits on how that monitoring can take place.

"It is entirely possible for either an employee or an employer to find themselves in a very difficult position simply by not understanding the rules in place.

"The case also offers a timely reminder that while there is so much media and corporate attention on the fast-approaching GDPR reforms, the current statutory framework must also be taken seriously."

He added that if employers had not considered whether their existing measures were in compliance with legislation – and the legislation when the GDPR reforms take effect next May – they should take legal advice on their position.