Employers may read private messages if these are sent during office hours and from a professional email or chat account and if there is any reason to assume abuse. This was determined last week by the European Court of Human Rights in the case filed by the Romanian, Bogdan Mihai Bărbulescu. Bărbulescu was dismissed in 2007 when his employer discovered that he sent private messages from his business Yahoo! Account. Fair or unfair? Infringement of privacy or entirely logical? We asked EUR students and employees what they think.

Anna Lagendijk – 18 years – Philosophy

Anna Lagendijk

As part-time employee in the library in Nijmegen, Anna does not have a work computer and therefore doesn’t spend a lot of time on private affairs. Occasionally looking at your phone is possible, but is ‘not nice for your colleagues’, she explained. So mostly she does that only once, during a break. “I think that it should be possible for the employer to monitor what you do at work but it also depends on the work that you do; for instance, if you are a psychologist or lawyer working with sensitive issues, then your clients have the right to privacy.” Should she need a computer for her work then she would ‘certainly pay more attention and be more aware’.

Korian Oganesian – 24 years – Urban Port & Transport Economics

Agnesian Korian
Agnesian Korian

Korian works as a student assistant at the International Office and sometimes arranges a few small private affairs, such as making a telephone call or sending a message. “I sometimes do that from my work computer but in total it’s no more than ten minutes in a day.” As long as it is clear that the employer can check up on this, Korian thinks this is justified: “If there are agreements about this and everyone knows that the employer is watching, then it’s OK. You need to be informed about this and then you can adapt your behaviour accordingly, if necessary.” He doesn’t expect that the university will check, but hopes that they would notify him if that was the case, and until that time he sees no reason to adapt his behaviour.

Thomas Goudriaan – 21 years old – Economics & Business economics

Thomas Goudriaan
Thomas Goudriaan Image credit: Najat Chaatouf

I use 9GAG, Facebook and YouTube for a little distraction about 2 to 3 times a day, explained Thomas who has been working for Erasmus Education for two years now. “In a certain sense your privacy will be infringed, everyone has the right to privacy, even when you’re at work. I also think that something like this does not need to happen in a healthy relationship between employer and employee.” He also doesn’t think that his employer has the need to check in his files to see what he’s doing, as long as he does his job properly. “I have a sense of trust my in employer and in our relationship; I don’t feel I have to be concerned about this.”

Richard van der Pot – 32 years – Project Manager at Asito

Richard van der Pot
Richard van der Pot Image credit: Najat Chaatouf

If Richard is busy with private affairs during work, then it’s ten minutes at the most, checking his private emails. “I think it’s justified if my employers check my business email account, but not if they check my private email.” Richard also thinks it’s fine if they look at his browser history: “You are paid by your boss and he pays you to work. So if you start doing your private things you run the risk that your boss will see that, and I think that is justified.”

Erasmus University Rotterdam has also drawn up regulations about this in the “Regulations for the Use of Internet and ICT Facilities applicable to employees of Erasmus University Rotterdam”. Click on this link to see the complete document.

2.2 Limited personal use of the Internet and IT facilities is permitted insofar as this does not adversely affect Staff Members’ work, is not disruptive to others, and does not adversely affect the proper functioning – including accessibility – of the network or other IT Facilities at EUR.

2.5 n connection with enforcing these Regulations, EUR endeavours to take measures that restrict access to individual Staff Members’ personal data as much as possible. Wherever possible, EUR will only carry out computerised checks or filters without allowing itself or others access to individual persons’ behaviour.