Private messaging at work is not a fireable offence, rules European court.
Today, most workers WhatsApp or communicate privately with friends and family through tools such as Facebook Messenger, Viber or Twitter at work. But in 2007 – a mere 10 years ago – a Romanian man was sacked from his job for sending private messages at work.
In 2007, Bogdan Mihai Bărbulescu was fired for using Yahoo’s messaging service to send private messages after his employer used surveillance software to monitor his computer activity.
An appeal to a Romanian court last year declared that his employer was within its rights.
However, today (5 September), the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg – one of the highest courts in Europe – overturned that decision, declaring that Bărbulescu’s right to privacy had not been adequately protected.
Employers need to think about how and why they snoop
The court said it was not clear whether Bărbulescu had been warned if his communications would be monitored.
The ruling does not, however, mean that employers cannot monitor employee communications, and they can still dismiss employees for private usage of technology.
In an age where smartphones are festooned with all kinds of messaging apps, it will be hard to see employers replicate what happened to Bărbulescu, unless of course it involves specific crimes such as fraud, espionage or information theft.
But employers need to be reasonable and forthright with workers about the use of technology in the workplace.
In a Q&A on its ruling, the court said: “It does not mean that employers cannot, under any circumstances, monitor employees’ communications or that they cannot dismiss employees for using the internet at work for private purposes. However, the court considers that states should ensure that, when an employer takes measures to monitor employees’ communications, these measures are accompanied by adequate and sufficient safeguards against abuse.”