The lowdown on monitoring employees' emails

  • Business Advice
Peninsula Logo

Peninsula Group, HR and Health & Safety Experts

(Last updated )

Read our article: 'The lowdown on monitoring employees' emails'. Contact us today for more information about our Employment Law, Health & Safety, and HR services.

Unsure as to where you stand when it comes to monitoring emails sent and received by employees? We explain the different circumstances where this may or not be ok. Employees have an overarching right to privacy, even while at work. A recent European Court of Human Rights case has decided that an employer breached their employee’s privacy rights when monitoring emails sent through a work email account. This decision doesn’t mean that employers can’t monitor emails, but they should take into account some important considerations before doing so. Here’s our guide to help you...

  1. Have a legitimate reason

Employers need to have a fair, proportionate and legitimate reason to monitor employee communications, and it’s important to get the balance right between the employer’s needs and the employees’ privacy rights. Typical reasons may be to ensure employees are carrying out professional activities during working hours, or to ensure that confidential or inappropriate content is not being sent through email.

  1. Inform employees in advance

Employees need to be told that monitoring will take place before it’s implemented. In addition, information should also be provided in terms of how this will be carried out and when and what communication will be monitored e.g. whether this is just emails or includes telephone calls as well. A monitoring policy is a good way of informing the employee, either by a standalone policy or by including specific monitoring clauses in email and internet policies. The policy can also include the consequences or disciplinary action that can be taken following monitoring. All staff should read and be aware of the policy, with it placed in a central location to be accessed by staff as necessary.

  1. Monitor proportionately

The extent of monitoring carried out should be limited to that necessary to meet the business aim. For example, if the aim is to ensure the employee isn’t using work accounts for personal matters, it will generally be sufficient to look at the date, time and recipient of emails sent by the employee – whereas accessing all emails and reading the content, especially where personal, is likely to go too far and breach the employee’s privacy rights.

  1. Is there an alternative available?

Even if the employee is informed of monitoring, there’s a policy in place and a legitimate aim, employers should still assess whether there’s an alternative method to gain the required information. If there’s an allegation that an employee is sending personal emails, the first step should be to invite the employee to a meeting and ask them for their response to these allegations. Where the employee admits this, there will be no need to monitor their emails. Only in cases of denial will it be necessary to go further and carry out some monitoring.


Got a question? Check whether we’ve already answered it for you…

Related articles

  • polling station


    What could a general election mean for employment law?

    Here's what the big three have each vowed to do should they come away with an election win.

    Peninsula TeamPeninsula Team
    • Employment Law
  • NIC


    Conservatives plan NICs abolition for self employed

    After a difficult week, PM Rishi Sunak has set out a raft of tax measures at the Conservative manifesto launch with plans to abolish main NICs rate for four million self employed workers

    Peninsula TeamPeninsula Team
    • Employment Law
  • Global survey results


    UK Lagging in Mental Health Conversations: A Wake-Up Call for Employers

    The UK is diverging from this global trend, with a 4% decrease in employees speaking out about mental health issues.

    Peninsula Team Peninsula Team
    • Business Advice
Back to resource hub

Try Brainbox for free today

When AI meets 40 years of Peninsula expertise... you get instant, expert answers to your HR and Health & Safety questions

Sign up to our newsletter

Get the latest news & tips that matter most to your business in our monthly newsletter.