Human rights court rules against Romanian fired for sending personal emails during working hours

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that a Romanian company’s decision to monitor an employee’s email account and fire him for sending personal emails during the work hours hadn’t breached the employee’s rights.

Romanian Bogdan Mihai Bărbulescu filed a complaint at the ECHR in 2008 after he was fired by his Romanian employer for using the work email for personal correspondence. He claimed that his right to respect for private and family life, home, and correspondence had been violated.

The case is as follows: “From August 1, 2004 until August 6, 2007, Mr. Bărbulescu was employed by a private company as an engineer in charge of sales. At his employers’ request, he created a Yahoo Messenger account for the purpose of responding to clients’ enquiries. On July 13, 2007, Mr. Bărbulescu was informed by his employer that his Yahoo Messenger communications had been monitored from July 5 to July 13, 2007 and that the records showed he had used the internet for personal purposes. Mr. Bărbulescu replied in writing that he had only used the service for professional purposes. He was presented with a transcript of his communication including transcripts of messages he had exchanged with his brother and his fiancée relating to personal matters such as his health and sex life. On August 1, 2007 the employer terminated Mr. Bărbulescu’s employment contract for breach of the company’s internal regulations that prohibited the use of company resources for personal purposes.”

Bărbulescu challenged his employer’s decision in court, complaining that his employer had violated his right to correspondence in accessing his communications in breach of the Constitution and Criminal Code. However, the court dismissed his complaint on the grounds that Bărbulescu had been duly informed of the company’s regulations. The Court of Appeal maintained the decision.

Thus, Bărbulescu filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights, both against his former employer and against the Romanian courts, complaining that the proceedings had been unfair.

The ECHR, however, did not find it unreasonable that an employer would want to verify that employees were completing their professional tasks during working hours and noted that the employer had accessed Bărbulescu’s account in the belief that it contained client-related communications. The Court, therefore, concluded that the domestic courts had struck a fair balance between Bărbulescu’s right to respect for his private life and correspondence.

The full decision is available here.

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