Are your employees emails their own affair?

Are your employees emails their own affair? Eye on computer monitor

July 2018

Are your employees emails their own affair?

There can’t be many, if indeed any, workplaces that don’t have open Internet access and work email accounts for their employees. But that doesn’t mean that they can send jokey emails, watch the tennis and carry out hours of social media activity without consequence. The reason for that lies largely in a case taken to the European Court of Human rights.  

All raising the question: Are your employees emails their own affair?

Strasbourg legal eagles made the decision that employers have the right to spy on staff’s work emails and so forth following the sacking of a Romanian engineer found messaging his fiancée on Yahoo chat. The employee in question had been given Yahoo chat for work purposes.

All of this said, there are of course caveats and considerations for the employer. Not least of which is GDPR. As this article in the Birmingham Mail points out, as a boss you have every right to monitor your staff’s electronic communications. BUT. You must pre-warn them. You must tell your employees what monitoring arrangements you have in place and the reasons for them. No playing I-Spy without they know the rules of the game!

Are your employees emails their own affair


From the HR Perspective

From an HR perspective, ACAS outlines these key points about workplace monitoring and the reasons for doing it.

  • You must, must, must, must have policies and procedures in place about workplace monitoring. And they MUST be written down. This is your golden rule.

Crystal Clear Policies

Your policies should explain with clarity the extent – if any at all – of personal use your employees are allowed. It also needs to explain that you may well check on their computer use and what the consequences are of breaching the policy. Your policy needs to emphasise that you forbid them from sending unsuitable and inappropriate email material that relates to:

  • Gender
  • Ethnicity
  • Race
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation
  • Religious or political convictions and 
  • Disabilty
  • This monitoring must not be excessive and it should be justifiable. You’ll need to take care if finding message that are clearly private and personal. The onus is on you, the employer, to be circumspect. Yet, if you feel this usage contravenes your policy then you must raise it with the staff member as soon as possible.


  • It’s vital you communicate to your staff what information you’re recording, why you’re recording it and how long you will keep it for.


  • You should keep secure, any information you collect through monitoring.

A three pronged approach

Anyone that’s raised either a puppy or a child knows that a three-pronged approach is the best one:

  1. Firm
  2. Fair
  3. Consistent

Well, it’s much the same with the monitoring of workplace emails and Internet usage. As the contributor to the Birmingham Mail article points out – problems come about with toleration of excessive use.  In particular, where inappropriate images and jokes are involved. What’s needed is a robust and consistent approach to ensure cooperation from all concerned.

And as for employees – if you don’t want your boss to read your messages, then don’t send it over your employer’s system. Simples.

If you’re an employer and this is a situation you’d like advice and support with then get in touch.  Send a message via the webform or call the office on 01793 877787.

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