We're watching you

Sep 12 2007 by Derek Torres Print This Article

European employers take note: when drafting up your monitoring policies in the workplace, you'd do well to be explicit in your instructions. Failure to do so may well see you fighting lawsuits before the European Court of Human Rights.

Recently, a company in Britain was found guilty of violating an employee's right to respect for private life (Article 8 of the European Convention).

Why? Were they trying to follow her home and see where she bought her groceries? Did they steal her bank statements from the letterbox to see how she spent her money? Not quite.

As it turns out, the claimant objected to the fact that the telephone calls, web surfing, and e-mails she sent at work were monitored by her employer. She claimed that she didn't know that her electronic (and phone) activities would be monitored. Frankly, that sounds like a bit of rubbish to me.

In this day and age, some level of monitoring in the workplace should be expected. If you find that a particular computer on your network is prone to receiving viruses or slowing down the network, you would probably want to know about it and then inform the guilty party.

In this particular case, the employer didn't explicitly provide employees with (or display for that matter) clear monitoring rules. That, my friends, is precisely the problem that the European Court had with the employer.

What's more, the company was also let down by anHR department not doing its job properly. It's hard to imagine the legal department in a company wouldn't have advised posting such information in a visible spot. At the very least, one would expect that the employer would have informed the employee of monitoring practices so that she could modify her behavior.

The employee clearly dodged a bullet in this case; it's simply not reasonable to have a high expectation of privacy when it comes to using employer communication resources while at work.