In our conversations with our clients, we often experience a cultural gap between North America and Europe; even between the various European states there are unique nuances.
Earlier court decisions in Europe took a similar approach to existing law in the United States as it relates to email and its privacy. Companies had wide-ranging powers to monitor workplace communications of their employees. However, a recent decision by the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights changes things here in Europe.
Privacy is seen as a fundamental right in Europe. Earlier this month, the courts ruled that employers cannot monitor their employees’ emails without notifying them upfront. They urged all members of the Council of Europe (47 countries) to work on local legislation to govern email monitoring by employers.
What does this mean for you as an international employer? First of all you need to make sure that you have a policy regarding internet and email usage within the company; in addition, you must ensure that every employee has read the policy. The policy will need to be in accordance with local legislation, as each jurisdiction will have its uniqueness. You cannot simply present your US/North American policy to your employees in Europe and expect that it will be enforceable. Just as each state in the States or the various provinces in Canada have their own unique differences, so does each European country.
If you are ever in a situation where you need to check emails of your employees, it is important that you follow local legislation. In most situations this means that you will need to notify the employee upfront. Since privacy is a sensitive area in the employer-employee relationship, checking emails may be perceived as questioning your employee’s performance. It is often a trigger to conversations about employee performance in general.
Would you like to learn more about how you can make your US HR policies “Europe proof”, as well as avoid employee problems as it relates to privacy? Or do you need advice on how to solve a troubled employee relationship? Please contact us our Vice President of HRO, Monique Ramondt, for more information.