EU Court Rules Employers Can Read Your Private Messages at Work

January 14, 2016 Updated: January 15, 2016

It’s official: Employers in Europe aren’t violating EU law when they keep tabs on the private emails and text messages that their workers send while at the office.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled on Jan. 12 that a Romanian company did not violate a worker’s privacy rights after reading his private Yahoo chat logs.

Bogdan Barbulescu was fired by his company for using Yahoo messenger to send messages to his family during work hours, which was against the company policy. Barbulescu sued in the company, which had accessed his account without his permission, for violating the Romanian Constitution.

His case was dismissed by various Romanian courts, prompting him to eventually appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, on the grounds that his employer had violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which deals with privacy.

Article 8 of the Convention states that “Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.”

The Court ruled against him, stating that it was “not unreasonable for an employer to want to verify that the employees are completing their professional tasks during working hours,” and that the employer had only accessed Yahoo messenger and not “other data and documents” on his computer, evidence that the monitoring was “limited and proportionate.”

The decision wasn’t unanimous; one of the seven judges on the court issued a partially dissenting opinion.

“Technology has blurred the diving line between work life and private life … [some companies] allow employees to use their own equipment for work-related matters,” wrote Paulo Sérgio Pinto de Albuquerque. “Workers do not abandon their right to privacy and data protection every morning at the doors of the workplace.”