On September 5, 2017, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (“ECtHR”) issued its ruling on appeal in the case of Bărbulescu v. Romania, concerning alleged unlawful workplace monitoring of Mr. Barbulescu’s private communications.
Overturning the ECtHR’s prior ruling in the case (covered by Inside Privacy here), the Grand Chamber held that Romanian courts had not adequately and fairly weighed up the competing interests of Mr Barbulescu and his employer. That defect of justice meant that Romania had failed to proactively protect Mr Barbulescu’s right to privacy, as required by its membership of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Grand Chamber held that Mr Barbulescu’s right to privacy extended to his workplace, despite his private use of a work computer constituting a breach of his rules of employment. The Grand Chamber held that while privacy in the workplace can be restricted “as necessary,” “an employer’s instructions cannot reduce private social life in the workplace to zero,” since the right to privacy does not necessarily depend on an individual’s reasonable expectations, and can be enjoyed in public and in the workplace, notwithstanding prohibitions and warnings given to the individual. A fulsome balancing exercise was therefore required in cases such as these.
The Grand Chamber underlined that provided national courts undertake an adequate balancing exercise, they have some discretion as to the actual result (i.e. whether the employer’s or employee’s rights prevail in a given case). Similar discretion is also enjoyed by national legislators and constitutions when setting underlying rules on workplace privacy, provided such rules – and a means to enforce them – are actually in place.
Nevertheless, the ruling states that workplace monitoring must always be limited to what is necessary for a legitimate purpose, and should be accompanied by a range of safeguards, normally including prior notice to employees – particularly when the content of communications is concerned.
Continue Reading New Ruling in European Employee Monitoring Case