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Employers' rights to 'snoop' unchanged following European ruling, experts say

Legal analysts have been quick to pour water on a media firestorm about a so-called 'snoopers charter' sanctioned by a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) recently.

While some commentators warned about employers being given the right to snoop on private messages being sent via social media during work time, experts have been pointing out that this is a misinterpretation of the facts of the judgment.

Private messages, company time

The case centred on an employee in Romania who was dismissed for using company software and time to send private messages during office hours, when he knew it was against policy.

To establish he had done so, the employer printed out his usage history to demonstrate that he had not always used the software for business use as had been intended. But the employee complained that this had violated his rights. The Romanian courts had found in favour of the employer.

The employee appealed and contended that the employers' actions amounted to an invasion of privacy in breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The ECHR ruled in favour of the employer.

Little bearing on the UK

Legal experts said that the case hinged on whether Romanian domestic law was compatible with Article 8 - which the ECHR found that it was.

As such, the ruling may have repercussions in Romania, but shouldn't have a great deal of influence on UK employment legislation, experts said.

In the UK, the rules governing the way that employers can monitor their employees' communications remain unchanged, they said.

Briefly put, if they want monitor employee communications UK employers need to have a clear communications policy in place - ideally after consultation with employee representatives or a recognised trade union - so that employees know what is expected of them, and what standards of behaviour are appropriate.

An employer needs to justify their use of monitoring, showing that the benefits outweigh any possible adverse impacts.

Significant intrusion into private lives will not normally be justified unless there is a real risk of serious damage to the business.

Acas publications and services

Acas has detailed advice on Social media in the workplace and how to make it work for your organisation, including how to deal with data protection, privacy and monitoring issues.

Acas experts can visit your organisation and help you develop the appropriate policies and procedures to improve performance, boost engagement and keep on top of new technology issues. See Social media and how to develop a policy and Workshops, projects and business solutions for more details, or call the customer services team on 0300 123 1150.

Practical training is also available on Staff surveillance, Performance management, Skills for supervisors, Discipline and grievance.

For free, impartial advice and guidance visit Acas Helpline Online.

Visit the Acas Training Courses, Workshops and Projects area for more information.

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