The answer is yes.  Due to a recent decision in the European Court of Human Rights (“ECHR”) which has held that a firm that read a workers Yahoo messenger chats sent whilst he was at work was within its rights.

The Judge ruled that employers can read workers private messages sent via chat, software and webmail accounts during working hours.

It was stated that the worker breached the company rules and that his employer had a right to check on his activity.  The Judge did however also state that there must be some protection to protect workers against “unfettered snooping.”

This case involved a worker in Romania that believed the Court would rule that his employer had breached his right to confidential correspondence when it accessed his messages and subsequently sacked him in 2007.

Despite the historic circumstances and this being in Romania this recent and highly publicised decision is significant as it binds all countries that have ratified the European Convention of Human Rights which include Britain

The Judge’s view was that it was not “unreasonable that an employer would want to verify that employees were completing their professional tasks during working hours.”

The Judge said, “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.

Whilst the Romanian worker had already lost his case in the Romanian domestic courts, he had appealed to the European Convention of Human Rights arguing that he had a right to private life and this had been breached when his employer had read the log on messenger.

The Judge found this was a proportionate step as the firm did not access other information stored on his work computer and the worker had prior warning that the company could check his messages.

This decision serves as a reminder that all employers should clearly explain any rules that would allow them to check on their workers online activities and all employees should be notified personally and explicitly of the said policy and content.

If you require further information on this case and how it may affect you or advice and assistance with contracts of employment; staff handbooks; internet and email and social media policies please contact Farleys’ Employment Law and HR team here.