'Don't snoop on staff,' European bosses warned
Bosses have been urged not to indulge in invasive surveillance by reading their employees' private messages.
A series of groups spoke out after Europe's top court ruled a Romanian man whose employer read his messages had not had his rights violated.
He broke company policy by using a work account to talk to his family.
In response, bodies representing directors and workers, as well as privacy and human resources groups, all issued similar warnings to bosses.
The European Trades Union Congress, which represents workers across the continent, said the judges' decision should not act as a "green light… to start snooping" on staff.
The case in the European Court of Human Rights did not introduce any new rules, but acted as a stress test for those that already allowed similar surveillance by employers in some circumstances.
'Big Brother bosses'
Institute of Directors director general Simon Walker said: "Employees should not be subject to Stasi-style surveillance at work.
"We would strongly urge businesses not to read an employee's personal messages, apart from in the most exceptional circumstances."
British Trades Union Congress general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "Big Brother bosses do not get the best out of employees.
"Staff who are being snooped on are less productive and less healthy".
And the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development said: "Employees that feel under excessive surveillance are also more likely to suffer from stress, so there needs to be a clear case for monitoring."
They were joined by the privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch, which said: "None of us should ever assume that what we do online during work hours or when using devices owned by our employer, such as computers, tablets or mobile phones, is private – but, equally, no employee should be in fear of being monitored by their boss."
The judges' ruling, handed down on Tuesday, said Romania had not failed to uphold the right to a private life of its citizen Bogdan Barbulescu.
Mr Barbulescu's employer had sacked him after finding he had been using a Yahoo Messenger account to speak to both his fiancee and his brother, despite having been asked to set up the account for work purposes only, the seven judges said.
The company had also banned private use of the internet at work.
When confronted, Mr Barbulescu had denied violating the policy, the judges found.
And the company had therefore been justified in reading both the work and private correspondence on the account – some of it highly sensitive.
Mr Barbulescu said his rights had been violated and, having been unsuccessful in arguing as much in the domestic courts, asked the judges to rule that Romania had failed in its duty to him.