As the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled this week that employers can read any private employee messages send via any social chat service, or through mail accounts, we consider what this may mean for organisations.

It’s been legal for quite some time for employers to be able to read personal email – within reason. Currently, UK law dictates that checks on employee communications must be “proportional,” but that can’t be read as an exact science. In the latest ruling, a Romanian employee was sacked for sending very personal content for his family through his business Yahoo Messenger account. The court ruled that this wasn’t an intrusion of his privacy as he’d claimed.

[bctt tweet=”If the organisational culture supports the occasional email or tweet, then this should be explicitly communicated within policies”]

This decision is significant for a number of European countries. There’s been a very strict division between employers’ ability to look at private information and employers’ ability to look at company stuff, but that’s certainly now changed. Most large companies have personal internet use guidelines within company policies, and most employees are aware of these. However, most employers or SMEs may not be as aware of this latest ruling.

From an employee perspective, if content and actions are under surveillance, and “Big Brother” is watching your every move, this hardly makes for a relaxed, conducive, trusting workplace. However, an employer may argue that constant tweeting, or Facebook running in the background whilst work is being performed, is a distraction and against the purpose of being at work; i.e. you are being paid to work! Social media is large part of peoples’ lives, so ensure that your culture works with your organisational views. As an example, one UK organisation I know, uses WhatsApp as part of its Learning and Development Strategy for reaching employees globally, in order to facilitate group learning and communication of developmental progress. If you use social media as part of your work, then again, a clear definition needs to be placed on what content and frequency is allowable, or not. Also, think about how will you monitor any changes to your policies.

It all boils down to having honest open communication with employees. If the organisational culture supports the occasional email or tweet, then this should be explicitly communicated within policies. If not, then again explicit communication of that stance needs to be shared with all. Within policies, it should be made clear what type of personal messaging or content is also allowed. Then there should be no misunderstanding.

If you would like to know more about how this ruling could effect your business the HR Dept will do a FREE review of any IT and internet use at work policies that you have in place and check your staff contracts and make sure that you are covered. Just contact Caryl Thomas on [email protected] or  0345 209 44 98.  In response to this ruling, if you don’t have an IT and internet policy in place Caryl and her team will supply and implement one for you with a 10% discount, this offer will end on 31 January 2016.


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