Act may have 'significant' effect

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Article 8 (the right to respect for private and family life) is likely to prove of the greatest significance. It has the potential to disrupt the practice of employee call-monitoring and to give employees a footing in the battle against long hours - both hot topics for employers in the financial services sector.

Under Article 8, monitoring employees' correspondence becomes an infringement of privacy, but probably not in cases where employees are forewarned or provided with a non-monitored phone for private use.

Similarly, the use of private detectives - previously a popular means of establishing the veracity of long-term sickness - also risks infringing privacy, while persistent 12-hour days can be interpreted as inimical to 'respect for family life'.

The Act also has the potential to challenge recent UK government regulations giving employers greater freedom to snoop on their employees.

However, rights under the Act are only directly enforceable against public sector employers. In the private sector it will not be possible for employees to bring cases directly. According to Croucher, infringements of human rights must instead be used as evidence in suing for breach of existing laws. For example, unfair dismissal claims based on employees' refusal to work longer hours are now likely to be more powerful as a result of Article 8.

Whether such claims will succeed remains to be seen. 'The Act is rather nebulous and pervasive. Predicting its effect is as much a matter for intelligent imagination as it is for legal analysis,' says Granger.