Employers told to have clear policies on internet use at work
A controversial legal case that found employers have a right to snoop on some private messages highlights the need for organisations to have clear and fair internet usage policies, according to the Data Protection Office.
On Tuesday, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favour of a Romanian employer that sacked a worker after monitoring his messages for a week.
Bogdan Mihai Brbulescu was fired after sending personal messages through Yahoo's Messenger system using an account set up for his employer.
A spokesman for the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner here said the case is a useful reminder that the right to data privacy as protected by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and EU data protection law is not absolute.
It's a reminder of the need for clear and fair internet usage policy in their workplace, he said.
Speaking to the Irish Independent, a senior associate at Leman Solicitors, Síobhra Rush, said some issues around personal use of IT remain grey.
"There isn't an automatic right to monitor your usage. Every employer should have a policy in place saying usage will be monitored, because where they don't have it then you're into a case where the employee's right to privacy is somewhat strengthened.
"Their expectations on their privacy have not been reduced by the fact that there's a policy there that has made it clear that monitoring takes place.
"Does it mean that if you've used your work computer with your Gmail account that an employer access that? I wouldn't say so, can but I wouldn't like to say that it's definitely not the case either.
"It's basically about balancing the employee's right to privacy versus the business interest of the employer."
Ms Rush expects more cases to emerge as work culture changes.
Breda Cullen, managing partner at employment law firm HR Team, said the European ruling doesn't automatically give employers a 'green light'.
Ms Cullen said that while the ruling will give employers confidence in their efforts to manage staff internet use, it doesn't automatically give employers the go-ahead to monitor all employee communications online.
"Employers should proceed with caution and, if in doubt, seek professional advice. Any action needs to be backed up with a clear policy which must be adhered to by both employee and employer," she said.
Clear communication in relation to sites that can and cannot be used is important, she said.