Europäischer Gerichtshof für Menschenrecht

Urteil vom 12. Januar 2016 - Az: 61496/08

Kündigung wegen privater Messenger-Nachrichten am Arbeitsplatz

(1.) Artikel 8 der Europäischen Menschenrechtskonvention soll Individuen vor willkürlichen Eingriffen von Hoheitsträgern schützen.
 
(2.) Artikel 8 der Europäischen Menschenrechtskonvention besagt jedoch nicht, dass der Staat von solchen Eingriffen keinen Gebrauch machen darf. Vielmehr muss eine gerechte Abwägung zwischen privaten und öffentlichen Interessen oder Konventionsrechten erfolgen.
 
(3.) Es ist nicht unbillig, wenn ein Arbeitgeber überprüfen möchte, ob seine Arbeitnehmer die beruflichen Aufgaben während der Arbeitszeit erledigen können.
 
(4.) Wertet ein nationales Gericht vom Arbeitgeber überwachte Gesprächsverläufe seines Arbeitnehmers als Beweismittel aus, in dem Glauben berufliche Nachrichten zu finden, stellt dies keinen Eingriff in Artikel 8 der Europäischen Menschenrechtskonvention dar, wenn das Gericht dabei nur notwendige Details seiner privaten Gespräche verwendet.
 
Im vorliegenden Fall hatte ein rumänischer Arbeitgeber seinem Mitarbeiter gekündigt, da dieser, entgegen interner Bestimmungen, den Instant-Messenger-Dienst von Yahoo während seiner Arbeitszeit nicht nur für den Vertrieb von Waren genutzt , sondern damit während der Arbeitszeit auch private Konversationen mit seiner Verlobten und seinem Bruder getätigt hatte.
Der ehemalige Mitarbeiter sieht sich durch die Überwachung in seinem in der rumänischen Verfassung verankertem Recht auf Achtung seiner Korrespondenz verletzt.
Das Bezirksgericht hat seine Klage mit der Begründung verworfen, dass sich der Arbeitgeber bei der Kündigung an die arbeitsrechtlichen Vorschriften gehalten habe und der Mitarbeiter ordnungsgemäß über die internen Bestimmungen, dass Ressourcen der Firma nicht für private Zwecke genutzt werden dürfen, informiert wurde. Der Kläger ging in Berufung. Das Berufungsgericht bestätigte das Urteil des Bezirksgerichts.
Der Kläger sieht sich in Artikel 8 der Europäischen Menschenrechtskonvention - Recht auf Achtung des Privat- und Familienlebens - verletzt. Die inländischen Gerichte hätten es versäumt, ihn in seinem Recht zu schützen. Er legte Beschwerde beim Europäischen Gerichtshof für Menschenrechte ein.

THE FACTS

I.  THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE

The applicant was born in 1979 and lives in Bucharest.

From 1 August 2004 to 6 August 2007, he was employed by a private company (“the employer”) as an engineer in charge of sales. At his employer’s request, he created a Yahoo Messenger account for the purpose of responding to clients’ enquiries.

On 13 July 2007 the employer informed the applicant that his Yahoo Messenger communications had been monitored from 5 to 13 July 2007 and that the records showed that he had used the Internet for personal purposes, contrary to internal regulations. The applicant replied in writing that he had only used Yahoo Messenger for professional purposes. When presented with a forty-five-page transcript of his communications on Yahoo Messenger, the applicant notified his employer that, by violating his correspondence, they were accountable under the Criminal Code. The forty‑five pages contained transcripts of all the messages that the applicant had exchanged with his fiancée and his brother during the period when his communications had been monitored; they related to personal matters involving the applicant. The transcript also contained five short messages that the applicant had exchanged with his fiancée on 12 July 2007 using a personal Yahoo Messenger account; these messages did not disclose any intimate information.

On 1 August 2007 the employer terminated the applicant’s employment contract for breach of the company’s internal regulations which stated, inter alia:

“It is strictly forbidden to disturb order and discipline within the company’s premises and especially ... to use computers, photocopiers, telephones, telex and fax machines for personal purposes.”

The applicant challenged his employer’s decision before the Bucharest County Court (“the County Court”). He complained that this decision had been null and void since, by accessing his communications, his employer had violated his right to correspondence protected by the Romanian Constitution and the Criminal Code.

In a judgment of 7 December 2007, the County Court dismissed his complaint on the grounds that the employer had complied with the dismissal proceedings provided for by the Labour Code and noted that the applicant had been duly informed of the employer’s regulations that prohibited the use of company resources for personal purposes. The County Court’s judgment reads, in its relevant parts:

“The court takes the view that the monitoring of the [applicant]’s Yahoo Messenger communications from the company’s computer ... during working hours – regardless of whether the employer’s actions were or were not illegal (îmbracă sau nu forma ilicitului penal) – cannot affect the validity of the disciplinary proceedings in the instant case...

However, since the [applicant] claimed during the disciplinary proceedings that he had not used Yahoo Messenger for personal purposes but rather for advising clients on the products offered by his employer, the court finds that checking the content of the [applicant]’s communications was the only method for the employer to verify the [applicant]’s line of defence.

The employer’s right to monitor their employees’ use of the company’s computers in the workplace falls within the broad scope of the right to check the manner in which professional tasks are complete.

As long as the employees’ attention ... had been drawn to the fact that, not long before the applicant had received a disciplinary sanction, another colleague had been dismissed for having used the Internet, the telephone and the photocopiers for personal purposes and they had been warned that their activity was under surveillance (see notice no 2316 of 3 July 2007 that the applicant had signed ...) it cannot be held against the employer that he had not proven transparency and that he had not been open with regard to his activities in monitoring the use of the computers by its employees.

The Internet in the workplace must remain a tool at the employee’s disposal. It was granted by the employer for professional use and it is indisputable that the employer, by virtue of the right to monitor the employees’ activities, has the prerogative to keep personal use of the Internet monitored.

Some of the reasons that make the employer’s checks necessary are the possibilities that through use of the Internet employees could damage the company’s IT systems, or engage in illicit activities in the company’s name, or reveal the company’s commercial secrets.”

The applicant appealed against this judgment. He claimed that e‑mails were also protected by Article 8 of the Convention as pertaining to “private life” and “correspondence”. He also complained that the County Court had not allowed him to call witnesses to prove that the employer had not suffered as a result of his actions.

In a final decision of 17 June 2008, the Bucharest Court of Appeal (“the Court of Appeal”) dismissed his appeal and upheld the judgment rendered by the County Court. Relying on EU Directive 95/46/EC, the Court of Appeal ruled that the employer’s conduct had been reasonable and that the monitoring of the applicant’s communications had been the only method of establishing if there had been a disciplinary breach. With regard to his procedural rights, the Court of Appeal dismissed the applicant’s arguments, stating that the evidence already before it was sufficient. The Court of Appeal’s decision reads, in its relevant parts:

“In view of the fact that the employer has the right and the obligation to ensure the functioning of the company and, to this end, [the right] to check the manner in which its employees complete their professional tasks, and of the fact that [the employer] holds the disciplinary power of which it can legitimately dispose and which [entitled it] to monitor and to transcribe the communications on Yahoo Messenger that the employee denied having had for personal purposes, after having been, together with his other colleagues, warned against using the company’s resources for personal purposes, it cannot be held that the violation of his correspondence (violarea secretului corespondenţei) was not the only manner to achieve this legitimate aim and that the proper balance between the need to protect his private life and the right of the employer to supervise the functioning of its business was not struck.”

II. RELEVANT DOMESTIC LAW

The Romanian Constitution guarantees the right to the protection of intimate, private and family life (Article 26) as well as private correspondence (Article 28).

Article 195 of the Criminal Code provides that:

“Anyone who unlawfully opens somebody else’s correspondence or intercepts somebody else’s conversations or communication by telephone, by telegraph or by any other long distance means of transmission shall be liable to imprisonment for between six months to three years.”

The Labour Code in force at the time of events provided in Article 40(1)(d) that the employer had the right to monitor the manner in which the employees completed their professional tasks. Article 40(2)(i) provided that the employer had a duty to guarantee the confidentiality of the employees’ personal data.

Law no. 677/2001 on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data and the free movement of personal data (“Law no. 677/2001”) applies the provisions of EU Directive 95/46/EC (see paragraph 18 below). It defines “personal data” as “any data related to an identified or identifiable individual” (Article 3(a)). It provides that data can only be processed if the person concerned consented to it and it sets out a list of exceptions when consent is not necessary. Exceptions refer, among other situations, to the completion of a contract to which the concerned individual is a party and to securing a legitimate interest of the data operator (Article 5(2)(a and e)). It also provides that when processing data, public authorities remain under the obligation to protect the individuals’ intimate, private and family life (Article 5(3)). Lastly, anyone who suffered prejudice as a result of illegal processing of his/her personal data can ask the courts to allow him/her reparation (Article 18(2)).

II. RELEVANT INTERNATIONAL LAW

A.  Council of Europe instruments

The 1981 Council of Europe Convention for the protection of individuals with regard to automatic processing of personal data (“the Data Protection Convention”) defines “personal data” as “any information relating to an identified or identifiable individual”. The Convention provides, inter alia, as follows:

Article 2 – Definitions

“For the purposes of this Convention:

(...)

(c)  ’automatic processing’ includes the following operations if carried out in whole or in part by automated means: storage of data, carrying out of logical and/or arithmetical operations on those data, their alteration, erasure, retrieval or dissemination ...”

Article 3 – Scope

“(1)  The Parties undertake to apply this Convention to automated personal data files and automatic processing of personal data in the public and private sectors.”

(...)

Article 5 – Quality of data

“Personal data undergoing automatic processing shall be:

(a)  obtained and processed fairly and lawfully;

(b)  stored for specified and legitimate purposes and not used in a way incompatible with those purposes;

(c)  adequate, relevant and not excessive in relation to the purposes for which they are stored;

(d)  accurate and, where necessary, kept up to date;

(e)  preserved in a form which permits identification of the data subjects for no longer than is required for the purpose for which those data are stored.”

(...)

Article 8 – Additional safeguards for the data subject

“Any person shall be enabled:

(a)  to establish the existence of an automated personal data file, its main purposes, as well as the identity and habitual residence or principal place of business of the controller of the file;

(b)  to obtain at reasonable intervals and without excessive delay or expense confirmation of whether personal data relating to him are stored in the automated data file as well as communication to him of such data in an intelligible form (...)”

B.  European Union instruments

Directive 95/46/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of the European Union of 24 October 1995 on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data provides that the object of national laws in this area is notably to protect the right to privacy as recognised both in Article 8 of the Convention and the general principles of EU law. The Directive defines personal data as “any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person” (Article 2(a)) and asks for the Member States to prohibit processing of personal data concerning, among other things, “health or sex life” (Article 8(1)).

A Data Protection Working Party (“the Working Party”) was established under Article 29 of the Directive in order to examine the issue of surveillance of electronic communications in the workplace and to evaluate the implications of data protection for employees and employers. It is an independent EU advisory body. The Working Party issued in September 2001 opinion 8/2001 on the processing of personal data in an employment context, which summarises the fundamental data protection principles: finality, transparency, legitimacy, proportionality, accuracy, security and staff awareness. With regard to monitoring of employees, it suggested that it should be:

“A proportionate response by an employer to the risks it faces taking into account the legitimate privacy and other interests of workers”.

In May 2002 the Working Party produced the “Working document on the surveillance and the monitoring of electronic communications in the workplace” (“the working document”). This working document asserts that the simple fact that monitoring or surveillance conveniently serves an employer’s interest could not justify an intrusion into workers’ privacy. The document suggests that any monitoring measure must pass a list of four tests: transparency, necessity, fairness and proportionality.

From a technical point of view, the working document indicates that:

“Prompt information can be easily delivered by software such as warning windows, which pop up and alert the worker that the system has detected and/or has taken steps to prevent an unauthorised use of the network.”

More specifically, with regard to the question of access to an employee’s e-mails, the working document holds that:

“Opening an employee’s e-mail may also be necessary for reasons other than monitoring or surveillance, for example in order to maintain correspondence in case the employee is out of office (for example due to sickness or leave) and correspondence cannot be guaranteed otherwise (for example via an autoreply or automatic forwarding).”

THE LAW

I.  ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 8 OF THE CONVENTION

The applicant complained that his employer’s decision to terminate his contract had been based on a breach of his right to respect for his private life and correspondence and that the domestic courts had failed to protect his right; he relied on Article 8 of the Convention, which reads as follows:

“1.  Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

2.  There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

A.  Admissibility

1.  The parties’ submissions

The Government submitted that Article 8 of the Convention was not applicable in the present case. They noted that the applicant had set up the Yahoo Messenger account for professional use and he furthermore claimed that he had only used it for this purpose; the Government inferred that the applicant could not claim an “expectation of privacy” while at the same time denying any private use.

They further submitted that a number of Council of Europe member States required an assertion of the private nature of the communication for which the protection of privacy was sought; they relied, among other things, on the case-law of the French Court of Cassation that held that e-mails sent by an employee with means put at his disposal by his employer should be deemed to have a professional character and be accessible to the employer unless expressly identified as private.

Taking into consideration the differences between e-mail and instant messaging (the latter lacks a subject field), the Government argued that an assertion of the private character of the communication was essential for it to fall within the scope of Article 8. Thus, they pointed out that the applicant had been given an opportunity to claim that the use he had made of Yahoo Messenger had been, at least in part, private, and he had clearly stated that this had not been the case as he had declared that he had only communicated with clients on behalf of his employer.

The Government inferred that the applicant had been given proper prior notice that his employer could monitor his communications; they relied on the employer’s notice of 3 July 2007 and on the findings of the County Court that the applicant had not challenged in his appeal. They did not submit a copy of the notice.

Finally, the Government pointed out that the present case was different from the cases of Halford v. the United Kingdom (25 June 1997, Reports of Judgments and Decisions 1997‑III, where one of the landlines of the office had been designated for the applicant’s personal use), and Copland v. the United Kingdom (no. 62617/00, ECHR 2007‑I, where personal use was allowed and the surveillance aimed to determine whether the applicant had made “excessive use” of the facilities); in the instant case, the employer’s regulations explicitly prohibited all personal use of company facilities, including computers and Internet access.

The applicant contested the Government’s submissions and claimed that his communications on Yahoo Messenger had had a private character and therefore fell within the scope of Article 8 of the Convention. Referring to the State’s positive obligations according to Article 8, he argued that this provision was applicable on account of the Romanian State’s failure to protect his private sphere from interference by his employer. He pointed out that he had consistently raised this argument before the domestic authorities.

In the applicant’s opinion, it could not be disputed that the data intercepted by his employer represented both “personal data” and “sensitive personal data” within the meaning of Law no. 677/2001 and EU Directive 95/46/EC; the information related to identified persons (the applicant, his fiancée and his brother) and concerned sensitive issues (such as the applicant’s health and sex life). The applicant did not explain why he had used Yahoo Messenger for personal purposes, but suggested that at the material time the prices for mobile phones had been very high and that the requests for his professional services, as an engineer charged with selling heating equipment, had been very low in July 2007.

The applicant also complained that his employer had also accessed his personal Yahoo Messenger account, which had a different ID from the one he had registered for professional purposes. Moreover, the transcript of his communications had been made available to his colleagues who had discussed it publicly.

Relying on the case of Niemietz v. Germany (16 December 1992, Series A no. 251‑B), the applicant contended that denying the protection of Article 8 on the grounds that the measure complained of related only to professional activities could lead to inequality of treatment in that such protection would be available only to persons whose professional and non‑professional activities were so intermingled that they could not be distinguished. With reference to the case of Chappell v. the United Kingdom (30 March 1989, Series A no. 152‑A), he argued that the Court had not excluded the applicability of Article 8 of the Convention in the case of a search of the business premises.

The applicant insisted that the Yahoo Messenger software was by its nature designed for personal use and that the nature of the instant messaging service had entitled him to expect that his communications would be private. Had he not expected privacy, he would have refrained from disclosing intimate information.  He had felt reassured by his employer instructing him to protect his Yahoo Messenger account by choosing his own password. He denied having been given proper prior notice of his employer’s monitoring; he argued that the general prohibition in the employer’s internal regulations could not have amounted to prior notice of monitoring. He believed that the notice of 3 July 2007 had been identified after the facts; he submitted a copy of this notice which however does not bear the employees’ signatures.

The applicant found the Government’s submissions that he had initially asserted that he had used that account for professional purposes artificial; irrespective of his initial position, the fact that the actual use of the instant messaging service had been for personal purposes remains undisputed. He concluded that an employee’s right to establish and develop personal relationships during business hours could not be suppressed at the discretion or by a decision of their employer.

2.  The Court’s assessment

The Court has consistently held that the notion of private life is a broad concept (see, E.B. v. France [GC], no. 43546/02, § 43, 22 January 2008, and Bohlen v. Germany, no. 53495/09, § 45, 19 February 2015). It encompasses, for example, the right to establish and develop relationships with other human beings, and the right to identity and personal development (Niemietz, cited above, § 29, and Fernández Martínez v. Spain [GC], no. 56030/07, § 126, ECHR 2014 (extracts)). A broad reading of Article 8 does not mean, however, that it protects every activity a person might seek to engage in with other human beings in order to establish and develop such relationships. It will not, for example, protect interpersonal relations of such broad and indeterminate scope that there can be no conceivable direct link between the action or inaction of a State and a person’s private life (see, mutatis mutandis, Botta v. Italy, 24 February 1998, § 35, Reports of Judgments and Decisions 1998‑I).

Thus, according to the Court’s case-law, telephone calls from business premises are prima facie covered by the notions of “private life” and “correspondence” for the purposes of Article 8 § 1 (see Halford, cited above, § 44, and Amann v. Switzerland [GC], no. 27798/95, § 43, ECHR 2000‑II). The Court further held that e-mails sent from work should be similarly protected under Article 8, as should information derived from the monitoring of personal Internet usage (see Copland, cited above, § 41).

In the absence of a warning that one’s calls would be liable to monitoring, the applicant had a reasonable expectation as to the privacy of calls made from a work telephone (see Halford, cited above, § 45) and the same expectation should apply in relation to an applicant’s e-mail and Internet usage (see Copland, cited above, § 41). In a case in which the applicant’s workspace at a prosecutor’s office had been searched and some of his belongings had been seized (Peev v. Bulgaria, no. 64209/01, 26 July 2007), the Court held that the search amounted to an interference with the applicant’s “private life”; the Court found that the applicant had a reasonable expectation of privacy with regard to the personal belongings that he kept in his office (ibid., § 39). The Court further held that:

“39. ... such an arrangement is implicit in habitual employer-employee relations and there is nothing in the particular circumstances of the case – such as a regulation or stated policy of the applicant’s employer discouraging employees from storing personal papers and effects in their desks or filing cabinets – to suggest that the applicant’s expectation was unwarranted or unreasonable”.

The Court must therefore examine whether in the present case the applicant had a reasonable expectation of privacy when communicating from the Yahoo Messenger account that he had registered at his employer’s request. In this connection, it notes that it is not disputed that the applicant’s employer’s internal regulations strictly prohibited employees from using the company’s computers and resources for personal purposes (see paragraph 8 above).

It follows that the case is different, as suggested by the Government, from the Halford and Copland cases (cited above), in which the personal use of an office telephone was allowed or, at least, tolerated. The case must also be distinguished from the Peev case (cited above), in which the employer’s regulations did not forbid employees to keep personal belongings in their professional office.

The Court notes that the applicant chose to raise before the domestic courts his complaint under Article 8 of the Convention within the framework of labour law proceedings. The main object of his case before the domestic courts was indeed his dismissal and the fact that his dismissal had resulted from a breach of his right to respect of his private life was the argument he used in order to prove the nullity of his employer’s decision.

It follows that the object of his complaint before the Court is limited to the monitoring of his communications within the framework of disciplinary proceedings; the employer’s decision to terminate the applicant’s contract was not based on either the actual content of his communications nor on the fact of their eventual disclosure. In this regard, the Court notes that the applicant did not argue that he had had no other fora in which to bring these arguments separately before the domestic courts. The domestic law in force at the time of events provided for other remedies designed principally to protect private life (such as a criminal complaint based on Article 195 of the Criminal Code or a complaint based on Article 18(2) of Law no. 677/2001; see paragraphs 14 and 16 above), and the applicant did not claim that they were ineffective.

The Court must therefore determine whether, in view of the general prohibition imposed by his employer, the applicant retained a reasonable expectation that his communications would not be monitored. In this regard, the Court takes notice that the Data Protection Convention sets up clear principles applying to automatic data processing in order to enable an individual to establish the existence of an automated personal data file and its main purposes (see Articles 5 and 8 of the Data Protection Convention in paragraph 17 above). The relevant EU law goes in the same direction, notably in the field of surveillance of electronic communications in the workplace (see paragraphs 18, 19 and 20 above).

In the instant case, the Court notes that the elements in the file do not easily allow a straightforward answer. Indeed, the parties dispute whether the applicant had been given prior notice that his communications could have been monitored and their content accessed and eventually disclosed. The Government claimed that the applicant had been given proper prior notice that his employer could have monitored his communications (see paragraph 27 above), but the applicant denied having received such specific prior notice (see paragraph 33 above). The Court notes that the Government did not provide a signed copy of the employer’s notice of 3 July 2007 (see paragraph 27 above) and that the copy provided by the applicant does not bear any signatures (see paragraph 33 above).

The Court attaches importance to the fact that the employer accessed the applicant’s Yahoo messenger account and that the transcript of his communications was further used as a piece of evidence in the domestic labour court proceedings. It also notes that, according to applicant’s submissions, that the Government did not explicitly dispute, the content of his communications with his fiancée and his brother was purely private, and related to, among other things, very intimate subjects such as the applicant’s health or sex life (see paragraphs 7 and 30 above). It is also mindful of the applicant’s argument that his employer had also accessed his personal Yahoo Messenger account (see paragraphs 7 and 31 above).

Having regard to these circumstances, and especially to the fact that the content of the applicant’s communications on Yahoo messenger was accessed and that the transcript of these communications was further used in the proceedings before the labour courts, the Court is satisfied that the applicant’s “private life” and “correspondence” within the meaning of Article 8 § 1 were concerned by these measures (mutatis mutandis, Köpke v. Germany, (dec.), no. 420/07, 5 October 2010). It therefore finds that Article 8 § 1 is applicable in the present case.

The Court further notes that this complaint is not manifestly ill‑founded within the meaning of Article 35 § 3 (a) of the Convention and that it is not inadmissible on any other grounds. It must therefore be declared admissible.

B.  Merits

1.  The parties’ submissions

The applicant took the view that there had been an interference with his private life and correspondence within the meaning of Article 8 of the Convention, and that this interference had not been justified under the second paragraph of Article 8. He submitted that this interference had not been in accordance with the law, as the applicable legislation, namely the Labour Code, lacked sufficient foreseeability; in this connection, he claimed that the Court’s findings in the case of Oleksandr Volkov v. Ukraine (no. 21722/11, ECHR 2013) were applicable to the present case. He pointed out that neither the Labour Code nor Law no. 677/2001 provided procedural safeguards as regards the surveillance of an employee’s electronic communications.

He further argued that the interference had not been proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued. He refuted the findings of the domestic courts that his employer had had no other choice than to intercept his communications, and complained that no alternative means had been sought so that less damage to his fundamental rights would have been caused whilst fulfilling the same aim. He also mentioned that he had had a tense relationship with his employer and referred to another set of labour law proceedings in which the domestic courts had found in his favour.

The Government argued that the State authorities had met their positive obligations required by Article 8 of the Convention. They submitted that a wide variety of approaches existed among Council of Europe member States with regard to the regulation of monitoring of employees by an employer, and that there was no European consensus on the personal use of the Internet in the workplace.

They contended that in the instant case the authorities had allowed the applicant sufficient protection because of effective domestic court scrutiny of his case. Relying on the findings of the domestic courts, they noted that the applicant’s denial of any personal use of his computer had made it necessary for the employer to ascertain the content of the communications. He had thus been presented with the transcripts of his communications for a limited period, that is to say those messages between 5 and 13 July 2007, which demonstrated that he had been blatantly wasting time. The Government further argued that the courts would have proceeded to a different balancing act if the applicant had asserted from the beginning that he had used Yahoo Messenger for personal purposes.

The Government also submitted that the ban on personal use of the company’s resources was explicitly contained in the company regulations, and that both its enforcement and consequences had been known to the employees. They concluded that the domestic courts had struck a fair balance between the applicant’s rights and his employer’s legitimate interests.

2.  The Court’s assessment

The Court reiterates that although the purpose of Article 8 is essentially to protect an individual against arbitrary interference by the public authorities, it does not merely compel the State to abstain from such interference: in addition to this primarily negative undertaking, there may be positive obligations inherent in an effective respect for private life. These obligations may involve the adoption of measures designed to secure respect for private life even in the sphere of the relations of individuals between themselves (see Von Hannover v. Germany (no. 2) [GC], nos. 40660/08 and 60641/08, § 57, ECHR 2012, and Benediksdóttir v. Iceland (dec.), no. 38079/06, 16 June 2009). The boundary between the State’s positive and negative obligations under Article 8 does not lend itself to precise definition. In both contexts regard must be had to the fair balance that has to be struck between the competing interests – which may include competing private and public interests or Convention rights (see Evans v. the United Kingdom [GC], no. 6339/05, §§ 75 and 77, ECHR 2007‑I) – and in both contexts the State enjoys a certain margin of appreciation (see Von Hannover, cited above; and Jeunesse v. the Netherlands [GC], no. 12738/10, § 106, 3 October 2014).

In the instant case, the Court finds that the applicant’s complaint must be examined from the standpoint of the State’s positive obligations since he was employed by a private company, which could not by its actions engage State responsibility under the Convention. The Court’s findings in the case of Oleksandr Volkov (cited above), which concerned the dismissal of a judge, are therefore not applicable in the present case, as suggested by the applicant (see paragraph 47 above).

Therefore, the Court has to examine whether the State, in the context of its positive obligations under Article 8, struck a fair balance between the applicant’s right to respect for his private life and correspondence and his employer’s interests.

In this regard, the Court refers to its findings as to the scope of the complaint which is limited to the monitoring of the applicant’s communications within the framework of disciplinary proceedings (see paragraphs 40 and 41 above).

The Court notes that the applicant was able to raise his arguments related to the alleged breach of his private life and correspondence by his employer before the domestic courts. It further notes that they duly examined his arguments and found that the employer had acted in the context of the disciplinary powers provided for by the Labour Code (see paragraphs 10 and 15 above). The domestic courts also found that the applicant had used Yahoo Messenger on the company’s computer and that he had done so during working hours; his disciplinary breach was thus established (see paragraph 12 above).

In this context, the Court notes that both the County Court and the Court of Appeal attached particular importance to the fact that the employer had accessed the applicant’s Yahoo Messenger account in the belief that it had contained professional messages, since the latter had initially claimed that he had used it in order to advise clients (see paragraphs 10 and 12 above). It follows that the employer acted within its disciplinary powers since, as the domestic courts found, it had accessed the Yahoo Messenger account on the assumption that the information in question had been related to professional activities and that such access had therefore been legitimate. The Court sees no reason to question these findings.

As to the use of the transcript of the applicant’s communications on Yahoo Messenger as evidence before the domestic courts, the Court does not find that the domestic courts attached particular weight to it or to the actual content of the applicant’s communications in particular. The domestic courts relied on the transcript only to the extent that it proved the applicant’s disciplinary breach, namely that he had used the company’s computer for personal purposes during working hours. There is, indeed, no mention in their decisions of particular circumstances that the applicant communicated; the identity of the parties with whom he communicated is not revealed either. Therefore, the Court takes the view that the content of the communications was not a decisive element in the domestic courts’ findings.

While it is true that it had not been claimed that the applicant had caused actual damage to his employer (compare and contrast Pay v. United Kingdom, (dec.), no. 32792/05, 16 September 2008 where the applicant was involved outside work in activities that were not compatible with his professional duties, and Köpke (cited above), where the applicant had caused material losses to her employer), the Court finds that it is not unreasonable for an employer to want to verify that the employees are completing their professional tasks during working hours.

In addition, the Court notes that it appears that the communications on his Yahoo Messenger account were examined, but not the other data and documents that were stored on his computer. It therefore finds that the employer’s monitoring was limited in scope and proportionate (compare and contrast Wieser and Bicos Beteiligungen GmbH v. Austria, no. 74336/01, §§ 59 and 63, ECHR 2007‑IV, and Yuditskaya and Others v. Russia, no. 5678/06, § 30, 12 February 2015).

Furthermore, the Court finds that the applicant has not convincingly explained why he had used the Yahoo messenger account for personal purposes (see paragraph 30 above).

Having regard to the foregoing, the Court concludes in the present case that there is nothing to indicate that the domestic authorities failed to strike a fair balance, within their margin of appreciation, between the applicant’s right to respect for his private life under Article 8 and his employer’s interests.

There has accordingly been no violation of Article 8 of the Convention.

II.  ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 6 OF THE CONVENTION

Relying on Article 6 of the Convention, the applicant also complained that the proceedings before the domestic courts had been unfair, in particular as he had not been allowed to present witnesses as part of his case.

The Court notes that the applicant was able to raise these arguments before the Court of Appeal, which ruled, in a sufficiently reasoned decision, that hearing additional witnesses was not relevant to the case (see paragraph 12 above). Such a decision was delivered in a public hearing conducted in an adversarial manner and does not seem arbitrary (see García Ruiz v. Spain [GC], no. 30544/96, §§ 28-29, ECHR 1999‑I).

It follows that this complaint is manifestly ill-founded and must be rejected in accordance with Article 35 §§ 3 (a) and 4 of the Convention.

FOR THESE REASONS, THE COURT

1.  Declares, unanimously, the complaint concerning Article 8 of the Convention admissible and the remainder of the application inadmissible;

2.  Holds, by six votes to one, that there has been no violation of Article 8 of the Convention;

Done in English, and notified in writing on 12 January 2016, pursuant to Rule 77 §§ 2 and 3 of the Rules of Court.

 

 


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