Yes, that’s true. According to EU judges now employers can monitor employees’ private messages on WhatsApp, Facebook and other messaging services. This decision was ruled today and certainly will open a huge debate.
So you are worned: pay attention when you use messaging services for personal reasons while working, you risk to be fired. That’s what Europen Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has decided, allowing employers to read employees’ private messages sent via chat and webmail accounts during their working hours.
What is the origin of this decision? It all started with the sacking of Bogdan Barbulescu, a Romania worker, in 2007. Barbulescu was fired after his employer found out that he was sending private messages during working hours. Subsequently, Mr Barbulescu made an attempt to obtain a favourable rule by the court, stating that the employer had breached his right to confidential correspondence (in fact he used the app to chat not only with professional contacts, but also with his brother and his fiancee).
But things didn’t go as he wished as he lost his case in Romania’s domestic courts. At this point Mr Barbulescu had decided to appeal to the ECHR. Today the surprising decision finally arrived: judges have ruled that it was Mr Barbulescu who had actually breached the company rules that forbidden the use of the messaging app for personal reasons, so his employer had every motive to check on him.
The most important part of this ruling is that it applies to every country that has ratified the European Convention of Human Rights. That’s what the ECHR judges stated: “The employer acted within its disciplinary powers since, as the domestic courts found, it had accessed the Yahoo Messenger account on the assumption that the information in question had been related to professional activities and that such access had therefore been legitimate. The court sees no reason to question these findings.”
Judges have also added that unregulated prying on employees is not acceptable too, therefore they suggested that employers draw up a set of polices which clarify what information they can collect and how they can do it.