It has long been a stock question from clients as to whether they can monitor employees’ emails. In fact, the actual question from clients often comes too late, in that they ask if they can sack an employee for the contents of an email and, we have to say that they could, except that they cannot admit to having looked at an employee’s emails.

A European ruling had indicated a relaxation of these rules setting out circumstances when monitoring was acceptable. However, in a rare turn of events, the ruling has been appealed and the rarely used Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human rights has turned the law back in favour of the employee and privacy.

What this means is not really new wisdom. Employers need to know that they cannot look at employees’ emails unless they have told them they might do so. It does not have to be a conversation before each visit to an employee’s sent Items, but it does have to be explicit and indicate to the employee that they have no expectation of privacy.

The employer’s policy on emails should include words to the effect that “You have no expectation of privacy. While you might send personal communications on this email system, we will monitor those communications and may on occasion read them”. Larger employers with the administrative resources might get new starters to sign a declaration that they have read the policy containing the words above.

That’s really all an employer needs to know on the subject without getting into the matter in depth. If however you wish to read what is a lengthy judgement for yourself, it can be viewed at the following link:

https://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng#{“itemid”:[“001-177082”]}

 

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