ECHR rules in favour of workers' right to privacy

The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) welcomes the judgment today of the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in favour of a worker's right to privacy and restricting employers' right to monitor workers electronic communications.

The ETUC have intervened in support of the case because of its broader privacy and employment implications for workers.

The case brought by Bogdan Bărbulescu dates back to 2007 when he was asked to set up an email account to answer clients’ inquiries. Three years later, the company informed him that his use of the account had been monitored and that he had been found to have used a professional account to exchange private messages.

Bărbulescu claimed his was unfairly dismissed, and that the privacy of his emails should have been protected by the European convention on human rights, which guarantees respect for private and family life and correspondence.

This is a very important step to better protect worker’s privacy" said Esther Lynch, ETUC Confederal Secretary. "The ECHR required very detailed scrutiny by national Courts before allowing employers to monitor electronic communications at the workplace. Although it does not prohibit monitoring it sets high thresholds for its justification. The judgment means that even if the national courts have established that the worker has used employer’s electronic devices for personal purposes and even if the employer had prohibited such communication, this is not in itself a sufficient justification for monitoring the content of the communication or dismissing the worker”.

“The key message for member states is that they need to have in place sufficient rules to ensure that employers respect the right to privacy of their workers. It is clear from this ruling that workers do not leave their human rights at the doorstep of the workplace, and employers cannot have overly invasive surveillance their workforce."