Gone are the days when employees freely used consumer apps like WhatsApp, Viber, Line, Skype, and Facebook Messenger in the workplace for one of their favorite office pastimes—evading work by chatting to mates and slagging off colleagues. Last year, in a landmark case, the European Court of the Human Rights ruled that employers are allowed to read their employees’ messages sent on private messaging platforms during work hours. What does this mean?

It means you better get back to work and start behaving yourself now. At least until you are able to find another way to bow to that mid-afternoon slump.

Is It Lawful to Read Your Staff’s Private Messages?

Earlier, finding and penalizing every single individual for sending non-work-related messages was quite a hassle. But the new clarification of the law has empowered bosses to keep a sharp eye on employees’ communication in the workplace (leveraging various means, including text message spy apps and other monitoring solutions) have changed the game.

Though this massive invasion of privacy applies only to the messages that are sent and received during office hours, yet, it will reveal to the bosses, who is sweating and who is slacking.
Amidst all this tabloid and scare a lot of you would like to know, just how much your boss can legally snoop on you with the new ruling. Well, in spite of several grey areas bordering the degree of spying allowed, the answer is still: a damn more view than what you may actually be comfortable with.

• Can Your Employer Look at Your Personal Messages?
Yes, I am afraid so. If you have been evading your work to send non-work-related messages, your employer has the power to peek into your messages. Employers aren’t just allowed to browse through your messaging history, they can keep tabs on what you are sending. Especially, when you are using work laptop, phone or Wi-Fi to send private messages. Why?

The case which brought this verdict to light saw a Romanian company fire employee Bogdan Barbulescu for using an instant messaging service during work hours. And the judges are of the view that the firm has acted within its disciplinary powers since it had accessed the messages on the assumption that the information in question had been related to work therefore, such access is legitimate.

So, unless your work requires you to frequent social websites or use messaging apps, then your furtive online activities are going to stand out like a sore thumb. Sure, if you are really good at your job and get your work done anyway, it is unlikely you may gain too much attention. But if that’s not the case, your bosses have the autonomy to peep into your secretive sessions to determine your actions.

• What About Messages You Send During Your Breaks?
The EU judges ruled that it’s not unreasonable for employers to verify their employees were completing their official tasks during work hours. Now, this is a bit vague. However, interpreting the legalese will reveal to you that if messages are time stamped and shown to have been sent during official breaks, then you can argue they haven’t interfered with your professional tasks.

While this might not bar your boss from having a look, he or she do not have any grounds to fire you. Essentially, most of the text message spy apps available on the market provide time and date stamps of all the monitored messages so the user can know when exactly a specific conversation took place. This means, if an employer is using text message spy app at least you will have the peace of mind that you can send private messages during allocated breaks.

• Do They Need to Seek Permission from Employees to View their Messages?
Well, sort of. But your contract may likely to feature a pre-agreed employer-employee policy that automatically gives your employer the right to track your messages. However, unregulated spying on employees isn’t allowed. Basically, judges have called for a set of policies which exactly delineates what information employers can gather and how they’ll do so.

It’s a tad more confusing than one may have anticipated. Even though British courts need to take the EU’s ruling into account, they aren’t strictly bound by the judgment. That said, employers have to prove their staff member has violated the work agreement if they are to go prying into their private chats.

• What If You are Using a Work Machine at Home?
If your boss has supplied you with a work laptop, you might want to refrain from using it for non-work-related tasks, whether you are using it in or out of the workplace. Of course, work hours defense would go in in your favor here, but there can also be some provisions about sending or receiving private messages on work machines. Since you are using company’s property to send private messages. So it’s probably best to adopt a cautious approach. Until at least these pesky policies are in place.

• What If You Are Using a Personal Cell Phone?
If you are using a personal smartphone, your boss does not have the right to snoop into your private affair, but he or she certainly can give you a school teacher-style ticking off and may ask you to quit it with the cat memes.

However, things would get a little murkier, if your employer has supplied you with a work-handset. Because work phones are usually synced up to a central network, technically this allows employers to accidentally access device details, including non-work messages.

So, if you are sharing flirty messages with your new girlfriend or planning to start arranging drinks with a mater or simply slagging off the employer to Helen from the account while on the clock, it’s better to keep it to your personal device.

Rizwan Ahmad 
About the Author:
Rizwan is an avid mobile geek and a gaming lover. He loves to keep a tab on new Tech and loves to share latest tech news and reviews on Smartphones, Gadgets, Apps and more here on cyberockk.
Editor-in-chief at Cyberockk, Rizwan is an avid mobile geek and a gaming lover. He loves to keep a tab on new tech and loves to share the latest tech news and reviews on Smartphones, Gadgets, Apps and more.