An employer that snooped on an employee’s personal messages breached his right to a private life, the European court of human rights has ruled.
Bogdan Bărbulescu’s was dismissed from his job after he used the company’s internet connection to send personal messages during work hours.
But judges agreed by a majority of 11 to six that Romanian courts were wrong to have previously come down on the side of the employer.
They said the courts had not struck a “fair balance” between Bărbulescu’s right to a private life and his employer’s right to ensure he was following work rules.
Privacy International’s head of policy Tomaso Falchetta said the judgement confirms that individuals have a right to privacy at work.
“While employers may restrict such rights, insofar that it is deemed necessary, those restrictions cannot reduce private social life in the workplace to zero,” he said.
The judges said employers do not have an unfettered right to snoop on employee’s communications at work. Instead, they said companies must determine whether their interference is necessary and proportional to achieve a legitimate aim.
They also criticised the employer for failing to notify the employee of the introduction of monitoring.
“As the boundaries of work and private life become even more vague, particularly with the rise of the so-called gig economy and the exploitation of the personal data of individuals working for such companies, this judgement offers some important protections to employee’s right to privacy,” Falchetta added.