Can we access the emails of our employees? To what extent is there a right to employee’ emails privacy?

This indeed is not a trivial question. Lots of businesses have suffered tremendous economic downturns due to employee’s misbehaviors. If we suspect that one of our employees is committing an offence towards our business, stealing from us, leaking protected information, could we access to the content of their computer, or their emails?

Well, let’s say no, but …

Someone once told me that nothing someone says before the word but really counts. Let´s try to hit the nail on the head going to the heart of the matter.

Maybe, the most important criteria to be taken into account is those of the European Court of Human Rights. This court is satisfied when the proper measures are in place, the employees´ right to privacy is overridden by the right of the employer to run their business safely.

Having a close look, this is nothing but a battle between two fundamental rights. On one side, we found the ancient right to privacy (in some cases the secrecy of correspondence, which is by far more powerful than the right to privacy itself) which is considered a basic fundamental right worldwide. It’s well known that the employee’ don’t drop their rights when stepping into the workplace. Obviously, or not so obiously sometimes, they are still human beings with inalienable rights. Nonetheless, due to the fact that there is a contractual agreement between the subject and the employer, both parties have their rights and their obligations. It is here were the right to secure the smooth run of the business emerges. No one would disagree that the protection and the effectiveness of this right, also, is fundamental to the working of our societies.

So what happens in this duel? All in all and plainly said, the policy makers and the courts have set out a threshold in order to know if the measures taken by both parties are the result of striking a fair balance between the two duelists.

For brevities sake, one could access the content of their employees corporate computer or corporate email account, if it has been previously write down an agreement specifying that the employee has the obligation to limit the use of those tools to work related content. It means, that an agreement between both parties previously exists exist stating that the tools given by the employer to the employee in order to deploy the given task are only for corporate use, forbidding any further personal use. Furthermore, these measures should specify to what extent the employer reserves their right to check the proper use of the given tools.

If such an agreement is in place, there cannot be any expectation of privacy by the employee regarding the use of the corporate email or computer.

With that agreement in place and with grounded suspicion of misbehavior, and limiting the scope of the surveillance to the strictly necessary, the employer could monitor the employee’s computer or email.

We would have a further discussion of the differences between the secrecy of correspondence and the right to privacy, but before;

Can you tell us your thoughts? We would like to pick your brains on the subject before further discussions.

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