19.01.16 Barbulescu Case Highlights Importance of Employer's Rights to Read a Worker's Personal Inbox Messages

19 January 2016

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has stated that an organisation has the rights to read a worker’s personal inbox messages if they were sent while they were at work. UK employers are now being warned about ‘snooping’ on staff despite what the ECHR has said.

The information has come to light after Romanian engineer, Bogdan Barbulescu, was dismissed from work for using his Yahoo Messenger email account for personal and professional conversations when the email account had  in fact,  purely been created for work purposes at his company’s request. The reason for dismissal was for sending personal emails during working hours which was in breach of the company rules.

Barbulescu claimed that his employer violated his right to correspondence and argued that the Rumanian courts should have excluded all evidence of his personal communications on the grounds it infringed his Convention rights to privacy. However, the ECHR said it was not unreasonable that an employer would want to verify that employees were completing their professional tasks during working hours.

The European Court of Human Rights held that Article 8 (right to respect for private life and correspondence) was engaged however the Rumanian courts were entitled to look at that evidence in deciding whether the dismissal was justified as the Court recognised the need for employers to be able to verify that employees are completing professional tasks during working hours.


The line between work and personal life is becoming increasingly blurred and employers should also set out clear rules around what personal computer use they do allow and what the limitations on this may be, such as the hours in which it is permitted. All employers must have robust social media policies that all employees and employers abide by.

Whilst UK Judges must take into account the ECHR’s decision, they are not bound by them.

View the full case here.