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

By Dan Cooper and Rosie Klement

The EU’s Article 29 Working Party (“WP29”) has issued new guidance on data processing in the employment context.  Adopted on June 8, 2017, the guidance primarily takes account of the existing data protection framework under the EU Data Protection Directive (Directive 95/46/EC), but also considers the developments coming into force on May 25, 2018 under the EU General Data Protection Regulation (Regulation (EU) 2016/679) (“GDPR”).

The WP29 released the guidance partly as a result of the GDPR, but also due to the number of new technologies that have been adopted since previous WP29 publications relating to personal data in the workplace (see Opinion 8/2001 on the processing of personal data in the employment context and the 2002 Working Document on the surveillance of electronic communications in the workplace).  As the WP29 observes, these new technologies enable extensive systematic processing of employees’ personal data and present significant challenges to privacy and data protection.

The new guidance is not restricted to the protection of persons with an employment contract, but is more expansive in scope and intended to cover a range of individuals in an employment relationship with an organization, such as applicants and part-time workers (the term “employee” applies broadly in all such contexts).  The guidance discusses a number of distinct employment scenarios: processing operations during the recruitment and employee screening stage; processing for monitoring ICT usage in and out of the workplace; time, attendance and video monitoring; processing relating to employees’ use of vehicles; as well as the disclosure of employee data to third parties and international transfers of personal data.
Continue Reading EU Article 29 Working Party Releases Extensive GDPR Guidance on Data Processing at Work

On January 12, 2016, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled that an employer who had monitored an employee’s private communications during working hours had not breached the employee’s right to privacy (under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights).

This judgment will influence how other European national courts and regulators view similar cases involving employer monitoring of employee private communications. However, the full scope of the judgement remains somewhat unclear; in particular, it remains unclear whether the ECtHR would apply similar logic if the monitored communications had been carried out through a personal account, rather than a professional one.  Employers should also take note that the judgment emphasizes the need for employer monitoring policies to be reasonable and proportionate.  The judgment is available in full here.
Continue Reading European Court of Human Rights Rules That Employers Can Monitor Employee Private Communications