EMPLOYERS can read private messages sent by workers via chat software and webmail at work, a court has ruled.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) said a company that read a worker’s Yahoo Messenger chats sent during work hours was within its rights.
Judges said he had breached the company’s rules and that his employer had a right to check on his activities.
The judgement, handed down by the ECHR in Strasbourg, binds all countries that have ratified the European Convention on Human Rights.
Judges said a a worker had breached company rules and that his employer had a right to check the messages although it also said that policies must protect workers against snooping.
The worker in question was an engineer in Romania.
He had hoped that the court would rule that his employer breached his right to confidential correspondence when it accessed his messages and subsequently sacked him.
Judges dismissed the man’s request, they said it was not “unreasonable that an employer would want to verify that employees were completing their professional tasks during working hours”.
They added: “The employer acted within its disciplinary powers since, as the domestic courts found, it had accessed the Yahoo Messenger account on the assumption that the information in question had been related to professional activities and that such access had therefore been legitimate. The court sees no reason to question these findings.”
The man’s employer had banned its staff from sending personal messages at work.