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Chris Bryden and Michael Salter

Chris Bryden is a barrister at 4 Kings Bench Walk, specialising in civil, employment and family law. Email cxb@4kbw.co.uk, Twitter @BrydenLaw. Michael Salter is a barrister at Ely Place Chambers, specialising in employment law and costs litigation. E msalter@elyplace.com, T @Michaelelyplace.

i read your email

As the line between work and personal life blurs the media has repeatedly made reference to a right to snoop, with headlines such as “Bosses can snoop on workers’ private emails and messages” (The Telegraph), “Britain has a new human right … freedom to spy on employees’ emails” (The Daily Mail) and “Private messages at work can be read by European employers” (BBC News website). These three attention grabbers followed the decision of the ECHR in Bărbulescu v Romania (Application No 61496/08), 12 January 2016. Perhaps predictably, a proper reading of the case reveals that matters are not quite so clear-cut.

The use of social media in a workplace setting has gained increasing prominence alongside the rise of the internet-enabled office. Social media pervades the working day, and, whilst a number of employers have sought to limit its use during working hours, its mobile nature, accessible via smartphone or tablet, means that seeking to do so is a Sisyphean task.

Reputational damage

Social media also gives rise to a significant new medium through which employers can find themselves in difficulties. A disgruntled employee can easily and swiftly cause reputational damage through social media posts; a company can be irreparably damaged by the exposure to ridicule that this causes.