Ruling on sacking over monitoring of private messages reversed

Earlier this month, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) decided that a Romanian man should not have been dismissed for sending private messages whilst he was at work. This was the reversal of a decision the court had reached in 2016.

Mr Barbulescu was sacked by his employer in 2007 for sending private messages over the company’s email system. He took his employers to court – and lost in Romania and in the Chamber of the ECHR which reported it’s decision in January 2016 when it said that his employer was entitled to monitor his personal email whilst he was working.

However, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (comprising 17 judges as opposed to only 7 in the Chamber), have overturned the previous ECHR ruling and decided that he should not have been dismissed by his employers for sending private messages whilst he was at work.

Essentially, this final judgement of the ECHR detemined that there had been a breach of Mr Barbulesu’s Article 8 Rights which states that “Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.” 

The Court has produced a very helpful Question and Answer document to help explain  how it came to this decision. You can view that document by clicking here.

There is no further or higher court available to review this decision. Accordingly, this is the final say on the matter.

In the UK, the position on monitoring email has been clear for some time, being covered by the Data Protection Act. The Information Commissioner has published a useful booklet entitled “A quick guide to the employment practices code” and this can be found here. Section 5 of this publication deals with monitoring email communications whilst at work.

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