It has always been the case that an employer could restrict the use of personal email or internet use whilst at work, and indeed many contracts contain a clause to this effect. However this week a European Court took this provision one step further and ruled that an employer can view private messages sent whilst at work.

In a case before the European Court of Human Rights, Barbulescu v Romania, the issue of whether private messages sent during work time could be viewed by an employer, or whether this amounted to an infringement of the right to private life, was considered. It was decided that an employer could access these messages, provided that they could show that they were only doing so in a proportionate way to ensure that there was not excessive use of personal communication at work.

Whilst it may seem fair that an employer can check that employees are completing work during work time, the difficulty arises where companies permit “reasonable use” of email and internet use for personal messages, social media or personal use. What constitutes reasonable use, and what constitutes reasonable monitoring is less clear.

The TUC have urged employers to respect employee privacy in the workplace. If employers insist upon monitoring then clear policies defining “reasonable use” and “monitoring” should be set out to ensure that people do not accidentally breach these provisions.

However, it remains to be seen how this will operate in practice and with the prevalence of the ‘company laptop and mobile phone’ and erosion of defined office hours then it is likely that this issue will create further litigation.

If you are unsure about the internet and personal use provisions of your own contract, or if you have any other questions relating to your employment rights, then we can help. Here at Beecham Peacock we have a trusted relationship with some of the largest trade unions in the country to protect your working rights. For further information call us on 0191 232 3048 or email

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