Company permitted to monitor employees’ email accounts

The Constitutional Court in Madrid has ruled that the monitoring of an employee’s email account by the employer company did not infringe the employee’s constitutional right to privacy nor the right under the Spanish Constitution not to have private communications intercepted, particularly those communications made by telephone, telegraph, or post, in the absence of a court order permitting such interception.

The facts of the case were that the appellant, a former employee of the respondent chemical  company, was informed by letter that he was to be sacked from his job as a result of ‘conduct of the utmost disloyalty’, by facilitating, for a substantial period, confidential information to another company via email and SMS text messaging, without having requested prior authorisation, and using the resources of the company to do so.

Specifically, the employee was accused of having passed information relating to the product yields produced by the company in 2007 and 2008, even though aware of the significance of such data and the importance attached to the information not being made available to anyone outside the company. The activity carried-out by the company in this area related to obtaining alkaloid drugs such as morphine and codeine from the poppy plant.

Company’s actions were ‘justified’

The Court rejected the appellant’s submission that by accessing the employee’s communications the company  had acted disproportionately and instead referred to the actions as ‘justified’ since they were based on suspicions created by the irregular behaviour of the employee, ‘appropriate’ to determine if the employee was revealing privileged information to third parties and ‘necessary’ to justify the dismissal of the employee. The Court also considered the company’s actions to be ‘considered and balanced’ given that none of the messages scrutinised related to the employee’s private life.

The Court stated that there could not have existed a reasonably justified belief on the part of the employee that communications using the company’s email system would be confidential. On the basis that the use of the email system was to be limited to work related matters, there was an implicit authority  for the company to control use of the email system and to be able to verify that the employee was fulfilling all work related obligations, and accordingly the constitutional right to private communications was not violated.

Neither was the constitutional right to privacy of the individual violated given that the companies control of it’s email system was ‘foreseeable’.

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