A dispute is brewing between corporate lawyers and unions over calls made to employees at home.

Lawyers and unions differ over when it is reasonable for staff to be contacted when they are at home.

Law firm Weightmans said publicity surrounding the Human Rights Act 1998 had left many managers with the belief that they could not call employees at home under any circumstances.

A partner in the firm, Andrew Cooper, said: “Provided the call is justified because of a legitimate business concern, there is little chance of a successful challenge for a breach of human rights.”

But a research officer for finance union Unifi, Mark Briggs, said he could not see any reason why employees should be contacted at home unless it was an emergency.

Briggs said unions would back employees who felt their employers were calling them unnecessarily. “If it amounts to harassing an employee, we would back them in a legal action,” he said.

Cooper said employers were also on safe ground when it came to looking at employee emails.

He said to suggest reading emails was a breach of human rights laws was not correct. “There has to be a good reason to do it but, if employees are aware the email and telephone is for business use and spend hours emailing or ringing their friends, there is a legitimate reason for the employer to raise this as an issue.”

Cooper said the Human Rights Act 1998 was an important piece of legislation, but employers should not view it as “some crazy legal mandate which stops them interacting with employees”.

He said if the act was to be applied in the correct way, it was important that employers understood it rather than fear legal consequences.