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Privacy concerns European court rules companies can monitor online chats of workers

The case involves a Romanian engineer who was fired in 2007, after his company discovered he was using Yahoo Messenger to chat with his fiancee and brother.

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The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that companies could monitor workers’ online communications during working hours.  

The case involves a Romanian engineer who was fired in 2007, after his company discovered he was using Yahoo Messenger to chat with his fiancee and brother. According to The Guardian, using the messaging app for personal purposes was prohibited by the company.

“It is not unreasonable for an employer to want to verify that employees are completing their professional tasks during working hours,” the court in Strasbourg, France, ruled.

The judges also defended the decision by Romania’s courts to allow transcripts of the engineer’s communications be used against him in court, saying: “It proved that he had used the company’s computer for his own private purposes during working hours.”

The ECHR dismissed the engineer’s argument that the company had violated his right to confidential correspondence.

The ruling highlights the need for workers to beware of the pitfalls of using social media and email at work, Claire Dawson, an employment lawyer at Slater and Gordon in London, told Bloomberg news.

Some employers allow for “reasonable personal use” of company systems, while others impose a complete ban, Dawson said. “The advice to employees is clear: check what your employer’s policy is and operate within it.”

The ECHR’s judgments are binding on countries that have ratified the European Convention on Human Rights and will serve as precedent for future cases.

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