Russia: Employee Privacy at the Workplace

Employee surveillance, especially in the context of monitoring employees’ electronic communications, is becoming a hot topic in Russia. This article sets out the relevant legal issues of employee data privacy in Russia.

Employee surveillance, especially in the context of monitoring employees’ electronic comm, is becoming a hot topic in Russia. Many local and global companies operating in Russia are considering their options for protecting company assets while observing privacy rights of employees. This creates a requirement to have an understanding of the employee privacy requirements set out by Russian law. Generally, Russian law does not set out any specific requirements with respect to monitoring employees’ e-mails sent from their corporate e-mail address. Nevertheless, the Russian Constitution guarantees to all individuals rights for private life and privacy of correspondence that shall not be infringed by an employer.

Because the law contains no express exception, and courts have not weigned in on the issue, there is a diversity of opinions whether the above described general principle on monitoring employees’ private e-mails must apply to monitoring of e-mails kept on the computer of the company. Most common opinions are the following:

  • There is an opinion that the general principle must apply to these situations and monitoring employees’ private e-mails even if they are sent from the corporate e-mail address may be considered as an infringement of Russian law;
  • Another opinion is that the employer can monitor the contents of its computers provided that the employer: (i) properly informed employees that its computers can be used only for business purposes and that use of corporate e-mail for private purposes is prohibited; (ii) properly informed employees that the employer monitors or can monitor employees’ e-mails, including private e-mails. “Properly inform” in this context would mean that this information is included either in the employment contract or in the internal rules, and that the employees familiarized themselves with the information, providing written acknowledgment of their receipt and understanding thereof.

The current legal framework does not prevent employers from accessing and monitoring professional communications of their employees.

In practice, employers in Russia often apply the following legal instruments to be able to have unrestricted access to a corporate mailbox:

  • Obtain employees’ written consent to the e-mail monitoring that covers consent for review of personal correspondence of the employee which is on his/her computer;
  • Prohibit use of corporate e-mail for private purposes as described above; and
  • Inform employees about monitoring.

Nevertheless, the safest approach still remains to avoid reviewing employees’ private correspondence.

Summarizing the above, we can conclude that there is no universal approach that should be followed. Each company-employer should create and adhere to its own approach that will help to balance employees’ right to privacy against the rights and legitimate interests of the employers.