Right to spy on an employee’s private messages?

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.

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This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.


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Tim Scott

Partner - Head of Employment (Liverpool)

I specialise in employment law and have wide experience of giving practical advice to employers in the private and public sectors on both contentious and non-contentious issues.