15.01.2016 — Employers Can Read Employee’s Private Messages

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) held that employers can read employees' private messages sent during working hours.

The employer, an engineer in Romania, had asked the ECtHR to rule that his employer had breached his right to confidential correspondence when it accessed his messages and subsequently sacked him in 2007. His employer had discovered that he was using Yahoo Messenger for personal contacts, as well as professional ones.

The court refused to satisfy the employee’s claim. According to the ECtHR, sending private messages via chat software and webmail accounts by employees is a breach of the company's rules, and therefore employers are entitled to check on their activities. Because the employer believed it was accessing a work account, it was acting within its rights.

Countries that have ratified the European Convention on Human Rights, which include Russia, have agreed to abide by the ECtHR rulings that involve them. Rulings of the ECtHR to which a contracting state is not a party, are not obligatory for it, however general practice has been to take them into account. Therefore this ruling is technically not obligatory for Russia.

It is yet to be seen whether the said ruling will have an impact on Russia’s court practice, as the waters have been muddied by a recently enacted Federal law empowering the Russian Constitutional Court to refuse the enforcement of an international tribunal’s decision against Russia, if it concludes that the decision does not comply with the Russian Constitution. This Federal law might change the attitude of Russian judges to ECtHR jurisprudence as a whole.