21 Feb 2019

Richmond v Selecta Systems Ltd [2018] EWHC 1446 (Ch)

Facts

Mr Richmond, the sales director of Selecta, was supplied with a work mobile phone, which he also used to access personal AOL and Apple/iCloud accounts. After allegations were made against Mr Richmond, the managing director took his phone and asked for his passwords for the phone and his internet accounts so that he could check for company information. He found some in the iCloud. When he tried to delete the information, he had to reset the passwords, which locked Mr Richmond out of his accounts. Mr Richmond was later dismissed without notice and brought various claims against Selecta, including that the company had breached its duty of care to him in relation to his online accounts.

Decision

The High Court held that Selecta had breached its duty of care by interfering with Mr Richmond's personal internet accounts. This was because: loss to Mr Richmond was reasonably foreseeable; the relationship between the parties was sufficiently close; and it was fair, just and reasonable to impose a duty of care on Selecta towards Mr Richmond. Selecta was entitled to protect its business by accessing the phone and Mr Richmond's internet accounts to delete any company information held there but the managing director was not entitled to change security details on Mr Richmond's internet accounts. Mr Richmond was awarded £1,000 in compensation to cover the loss of access to his iTunes library and his AOL, LinkedIn and WhatsApp accounts.

Comment

This decision is helpful to employers in confirming that they can access employees' personal accounts held on a company phone or laptop if they suspect that company information is being held there. However, they must not interfere with the accounts. The High Court noted that the managing director should have sought advice from an IT specialist or discussed the matter with Mr Richmond before changing the passwords.