The recent case of Barbulescu v Romania has been trumpeted by some in the press as giving the green light to employers wishing to monitor employees’ private emails, etc. The Daily Mail has called this a “right to spy” on employees’ private messages.
This case relates to a Romanian engineer whose employer asked him to set up a Yahoo Messenger account to liaise with business contacts for work purposes. The company had in place a disciplinary rule which stated that “it is strictly forbidden… to use computers… for personal purposes.”
In July 2007, the company accessed the Yahoo Messenger account for monitoring purposes but found that, in addition to work-related activities, Mr B was in fact using Yahoo Messenger in work time to exchange private messages including with his fiancée and brother about his health and sex life. This was a breach of Mr B’s employment contract and the company’s internal rules. Managers advised him that, over the course of a week’s monitoring, he had been shown using the account for personal purposes. When he denied it, disciplinary proceedings followed in which managers presented Mr B with a 45 page transcript of the private messages. He was dismissed a month later for using the company’s internet during working hours for personal purposes.