The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) said reading a worker’s Yahoo Messenger chats sent while he was at work was within its rights.
Judges said his actions had breached the company’s policies and that his employer had a right to monitor on his activities. Such policies must also protect workers against unrestricted snooping.
The judges, sitting in the ECHR in Strasbourg, handed down their decision on Tuesday. It binds all countries that have ratified the European Convention on Human Rights, which includes Britain.
Bogdan Barbulescu, an engineer in Romania, had hoped the court would rule that his employer had breached his right to confidential correspondence when it accessed his messages and subsequently sacked him in 2007, Mr Barbulescu had already lost his case in Romania’s domestic courts and appealed to the ECHR.
One of the eight judges disagreed with the decision, saying that a blanket ban on personal internet use was unacceptable.
Going forward, he added, all employers should clearly explain any rules that would allow them to check on their workers’ online activities.
“All employees should be notified personally of the said policy and consent to it explicitly,” he wrote.