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ECHR: employers may check out employee’s messages during the working time

January 12, 2016 European Court of Human Rights (the Court) delivered a judgement in the case of Bărbulescu v. Romania concerning dismissal of an employee as he was using Yahoo Messenger for personal purposes during working hours.

Mr. Bărbulescu, a dismissed employee, alleged that his employer, who had dismissed him after having discovered messages addressed to his wife and brother sent from the company’s Yahoo Messenger account, violated Article 8 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (the Convention) stating everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

Mr. Bărbulescu’s employer (a private company) argued there was no violation of Article 8 of the Convention because the employer created a Yahoo Messenger account for the applicant to contact with the company’s clients while the applicant was notified it was prohibited to use the account for personal purposes and according to the company’s rules the messages could be revised as to their character. Mr. Bărbulescu was dismissed for the fact he used Yahoo Messenger account for personal purposes but not for the content of the messages sent.

After examination of the case the Court found that it was not unreasonable for an employer to want to verify that the employees were completing their professional tasks during working hours. In addition, the Court noted that the communications on applicant’s Yahoo Messenger account were examined, but not the other data and documents pertaining to Mr. Bărbulescu that were stored on his computer. Therefore, the Court concluded the dismissal did not violate the Article 8 of the Convention. The full text of the judgment can be found here.

The Court’s judgements are binding upon the Ukrainian courts, so the reviewed judgement will determine the Ukrainian courts’ practice in similar cases. That is why it is essential for Ukrainian employers to provide clearly in their rules the limits of usage of companies’ accounts and working platforms for personal purposes.