Surveillance of Internet usage in the workplace

Social Media button on a keyboard with speech bubbles.

Social Media button on a keyboard with speech bubbles.

Barbulescu v Romania, 12 January 2016 – read judgment

In December 2015, the European Court of Human Rights, by 6 votes to 1, dismissed a Romanian national’s appeal against his employer’s decision to terminate his contract for using a professional Yahoo Messenger account to send personal messages to his fiancé and brother.

Mr Barbulescu contended that his employer had breached his Article 8 right to respect for his private life and correspondence, and that the domestic courts had failed to protect his right. The Court found that there had been no such violation because the monitoring of the account by his employer had been limited and proportionate.

Background facts

Mr Barbulescu’s employers asked him to create a Yahoo Messenger account for responding to client enquiries and informed him that these communications had been monitored. The records showed that he had used the Internet for personal purposes, contrary to internal regulations. The employer’s regulations explicitly prohibited all personal use of company facilities, including computers and Internet access. The employer had accessed the Yahoo Messenger account in the belief that it had contained professional messages. Continue reading

When the Sh*t hits the Ban

Genetic Information Nondiscrimination ActJack Lowe and Dennis Reynolds, Plaintiffs v Atlas Logistics Group Retail Services

The first prosecution under the 2008 US Genetic  Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) has won $2.25 million jury damages for the individuals involved .

I have posted about genetic discrimination here and here. In the US some of these problems have been foreseen and legislated against: GINA prohibits discrimination against healthy individuals for employment decisions or health insurance purposes on the basis of genetic information alone; it also prevents employers and insurance providers from demanding or using information from genetic tests.

The law does include limited exemptions, however. Forensic laboratories can ask workers for their DNA to check that employees’ genetic material does not contaminate the genetic samples that they analyse. Continue reading

Victim of trafficking can claim compensation despite illegal entry to UK

human_traffickingHounga v Allen [2014] UKSC 47 – read judgment

The Supreme Court has ruled that victims may in some circumstance recover damages from their traffickers. Overturning the judgment of the Court of Appeal that the illegality of the underlying contract ruled out the claim for compensation, the majority held that to permit the trafficker to escape liability would be “an affront” to public policy. The judgment has far reaching implications in this area because, by its very nature, human trafficking often involves illegality.  Both the majority and the dissenters provide an interesting analysis and refinement of the law on illegality; as Lord Hughes observes:

It is in the nature of illegality that, when it succeeds as a bar to a claim, the defendant is the unworthy beneficiary of an undeserved windfall. But this is not because the defendant has the merits on his side; it is because the law cannot support the claimant’s claim to relief.

Conversely, when the illegality is not sufficiently closely connected to the claim, and can properly be regarded as collateral, or as doing no more than providing the context for the relationship which gives rise to the claim, the bar of illegality will not fall, as was decided in this case. Continue reading

Article 11: Right to strike and insecure workers – Lauren Godfrey

strike2_5Two different bodies in the last week have reflected on issues concerning the fundamental imbalance in the employment relationship. This provides an opportunity to reflect on what, if any, role human rights principles have in redressing that imbalance:

(1)    The Article 11 Case of RMT -v- UK (Application No 31045/10): The European Court Human Rights (Fourth Section sitting as a Chamber) found that Article 11 (the right to freedom of association) was not infringed by the restrictions imposed on trade unions calling on their members to take strike action by the UK Government as part of the statutory scheme which provides for lawful strikes; that is strikes that attract statutory immunity from common law liability. According to the ECHR, these restrictions on lawful striking were within the wide margin of appreciation enjoyed by the UK Government. The RMT’s case was that the restrictions impermissibly restricted their ability to protect and promote the interests of their members working in industries and for employers with complex corporate structures.

(2)    Zero Hour Contracts Consultation: The Government’s consultation on zero hours contract which appears to have been somewhat upstaged by the Parliament’s Scottish Affairs Committee publishing an interim report on zero-hours contracts which while recommending some changes, ultimately concludes that ‘in the majority of cases’ zero-hours contracts should not be used at all. The interim report contends that the lack of job security for workers engaged on zero hours contracts places a practical impediment to the majority of the workers surveyed from enforcing other basic rights including the minimum wage, part-time worker protections, and protection for those with caring responsibilities: see summary here. Continue reading

EU employment rights law trumps diplomatic immunity – what next?

European-Union-Flag_1Benkharbouche v Embassy of the Republic of Sudan (Jurisdictional Points: State Immunity) [2013] UKEAT 0401_12_0410 4 October 2013 – read judgment

These appeals, heard at the same time, raise the question whether someone employed in the UK by a foreign diplomatic mission as a member of its domestic staff may bring a claim to assert employment rights against the country whose mission it is, despite being met by an assertion of State Immunity under the State Immunity Act 1978. The EAT regarded itself bound by the supremacy of EU law to disapply the SIA, despite the fact that it had no jurisdiction to do so under the 1998 Human Rights Act.

This is the first time that the full force of the rights contained in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms has made itself felt in a domestic dispute between private parties (although the embassies themselves are state institutions, as an employment dispute the matter is one of private law only). If upheld on appeal, this ruling will have consequences that extend far beyond the somewhat esoteric area of the immunity of diplomatic missions, and will make the effect of the Human Rights Act look puny by comparison (as pointed out by Joshua Rozenberg  in his post on this case). Continue reading

A historic leap forward for equal pay claimants?

Money purse - WalletDumfries and Galloway -v- North [2013] UKSC 45 – Read judgment

Yesterday’s much heralded equal pay ‘victory’ in the Supreme Court (see BBC Report) undoubtedly will be good news for the specific female claimants in the case who seek to vindicate their European Union rights to equal pay.

The female claimants do so by comparing their pay with male colleagues working in entirely distinct parts of the same local authority (being Dumfries and Galloway Council) but arguably on common terms and conditions of employment (often referred to as the ‘same employment’ test).

However, in legal terms, arguably the unanimous Judgment delivered by Lady Hale in the Supreme Court is not quite so revolutionary. Many practitioners, outside Scotland at least, had anticipated its outcome.

Continue reading

Working with the elderly and infirm: a delicate balance of rights

 R (on the application of J) v the Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall [2012] EWHC 2996, 26 October 2012 – read judgment

Close on the heels of last week’s decision regarding disclosure of information from the Child Sex Offenders Register comes this ruling on the police decision to disclose certain information from a nurse’s enhanced criminal records certificates without affording her an opportunity to make representations before the information was released.

The Legal Framework

Section 113B of the Police Act 1997 provides for enhanced criminal record checks to be carried out in various specified circumstances, such as where people are applying to work with children or vulnerable adults. The check is enhanced in the sense that it will involve a check with local police records as well as the centralised computer records held by the Criminal Records Bureau. As well as information about minor convictions and cautions, it will reveal allegations held on local police records about the applicant’s criminal or other behaviour which have not been tested at trial or led to a conviction.If the information satisfies certain threshold tests in the relevant statute, it must be given to the Secretary of State  who must include it in the relevant individual’s Enhanced Criminal Record Certificate or “ECRC.” Continue reading