Labour Research February 2016

Law Matters

Right to privacy was not breached, says ruling

In a worrying outcome for employees, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) decided in Barbulescu v Romania (61496/08) that Mr Barbulescu’s right to privacy was not breached when his employer monitored his personal internet use at work and used evidence of this against him in court.

Mr Barbulescu, an engineer, had a Yahoo Messenger account for professional use. Personal use was forbidden. However, Barbulescu used the Yahoo Messenger account to correspond with his fiancée and brother. His employer monitored the Yahoo account, discovered the personal messages and dismissed Barbulescu.

Barbulescu argued that using evidence of his personal communications in court proceedings was in breach of his right to private life and correspondence (under Article 8 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, now the European Convention on Human Rights).

The ECHR decided Article 8 was indeed applicable, but had not been breached. This decision involved taking into account how to strike a fair balance between the employee’s right to respect for private life and the employer’s interests, as well as whether the employer’s monitoring was limited and proportionate.

TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady warned: “Big Brother bosses do not get the best out of employees.” And she said that people “should have a right to privacy in the workplace”.