New ruling about private messages at work – should you snoop on your employees?

In January the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that employers can justify reading their employees’ online private messages.

An engineer in Romania asked the judges to rule that his employer had breached his right to confidential correspondence by accessing his private messages, but it was ultimately decided that the individual had broken the terms of his employment by sending messages on company time.

Interestingly, the ECHR commented that it wasn’t “unreasonable that an employer would want to verify that employees were completing their professional tasks during working hours”.

Now of course, this raises some very topical issues. Messaging platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, and so on, are very much part of our day-to-day lives. You’d probably be hard pushed to find an employee who hadn’t used one of these even within the past 24 hours.

We’re all more connected than ever, and these sites and apps put communication and distraction right in the palm of our hands.

Employee’s should be performing to the best of their ability, and it’s not difficult to see how modern technology could easily distract them from their roles and responsibilities.

However, it’s worthwhile taking a step back and think about the bigger picture.

Does this ruling mean you can snoop on your employees and access their personal conversations on a whim? No, certainly not. Legislation and regulations aside, it would be a breach of confidentiality in most cases, and it would certainly would be harmful in terms of creating trust and developing good relationships with your team.

If you don’t have a clear and considered approach to the use of social media and private messaging in the workplace, then you could be leaving yourself wide open for problems in the future.

Not sure where to start?  Here are some practical tips for ensuring that your business is prepared for any issues:

  1. Create a clear policy about the use of social media and private messaging in the workplace, and ensure that it’s communicated to all members of staff. This way, everyone knows what’s expected of them, and it’s easy to see when boundaries have been crossed. Make sure that you cover not only what you expect from your employees, but also your own rights and responsibilities. Social Media policy – ready to use template
  2. Be reasonable. Many employers allow some use of social media and online messaging in the workplace. Unless your employees are customer-facing and it could cause problems in terms of service or safety, then a degree of flexibility could serve you well. As long as there are boundaries in place, there’s often not really the need to enforce an outright ban.
  3. Recognise that this isn’t just an HR issue. When it comes to how your business handles data and information, you need to make sure that you’re taking a strategic approach that encompasses all the company’s functions.

Is it time to rethink your practices and procedures? Let HR Revolution advise you, please get in touch + 020 3538 5311…

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