Warning to bosses not to snoop on staff

A Lancashire solicitor has warned big brother bosses to avoid snooping on staff’s online use despite a recent European case which ruled in favour of a company who sacked an employee for using a messenger service to chat privately during working hours.

The case involved a Romanian engineer who was fired after his company discovered he was using Yahoo Messenger to chat not only with his professional contacts but also with his fiancee and brother.

Company policy had prohibited the use of the messaging app for personal purposes and so representatives from the firm read both the work and private correspondence on the account - some of it highly sensitive.

The European court of human rights (ECHR) dismissed the engineer’s argument that the company had violated his right to confidential correspondence.

Michael Shroot, partner and head of employment law at WHN Solicitors said: “The lines between public and private use of social media have become extremely blurred and issues are also now frequently arising in relation to employment law, particularly in situations relating to misconduct and dismissal.

“As a business owner you can’t be too hasty. If you are concerned a worker is using social media or the internet for private use in work time you can’t simply log into accounts and print out private messages to remove them from the business.”

The court ruling doesn’t introduce new measures but the decision could open the door for other company owners to keep a closer eye on their staff. The amount of access employers have to employees' communications is defined by a series of regulations that balance when it is lawful against when it is proportionate and necessary.

However, the data protection act protects people from their private information being abused and so an employer must have reasonable suspicion of a violation of company policy to allow them to progress with gaining evidence.

Michael Shroot believes that the ease with which employers can monitor communications could contribute to a number of new cases ending in the courts and tribunals.

He added: “To protect your business, you must establish adequate social media policies and practices and as with any employment law issue, it is always the contract and policy which makes it clear from the outset what is acceptable and what will result in a disciplinary or dismissal.

“Snooping on staff without expert advice could land many employers in hot water, facing costly unfair dismissal claims.” For more information on about the rules surrounding employment law contact Michael Shroot on 0161 7618087 email michael.shroot@whnsolicitors.co.uk