HDPA issues statement on the monitoring of employee e-mails

At the end of last year, the Hungarian Data Protection Authority (HDPA) issued a statement, in which the HDPA commits itself to take all possible actions and use all available means – including adequate legal consequences to prevent further infringements – to stop the widespread practices of unlawful processing of employee e-mails. 
How does personal data enter the picture?

Even if an e-mail address was provided for the purposes of working, it might eventually be used by the employee for personal matters, or third parties might send personal e-mails to the address, which turns this into a question of data privacy. Although some advisable steps can be taken to prevent the personal use of work e-mail addresses (i.e. the prohibition of personal use of work assets), it is not seemingly possible to fully separate the two uses, since receiving a personal e-mail from a third party is generally outside the employer’s or employee’s control. It is also important to note that if an employee uses the work e-mail address for personal matters despite possible explicit prohibitions set in place, such an act will still be attributed to the employer’s data processing, thus the processing of personal data is unavoidable.

What is expected of the employers?

First and foremost, employers should determine the lawful ground of the processing. The HDPA highlighted storing, archiving and searching/ indexing as the most common processing actions performed on employee e-mails. Naturally, employers have a vested interest in the monitoring of employee e-mails, as it is necessary to control and maintain the work flow, therefore the lawful ground must be substantiated by a thorough balancing test prior to the processing. Once the lawful ground is established, it is advisable to prepare an SOP on the monitoring process.

The employer must duly inform the employees about the monitoring of work e-mails, the data processing and whether or not personal use of work e-mails is permitted or prohibited at the workplace.

Before or during the monitoring, the employer must take all reasonable steps to separate work related and private e-mails. In accordance with the principle of accountability, the employer should maintain a record of the steps taken during monitoring.

Considering the fact that almost every employer provides its employees with an e-mail address for work purposes, this statement is important to all employers who wish to be compliant with the GDPR and employees interested in the protection of their private lives.