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Email Privacy at Work



Periodically the issue of what rights to privacy and personal use an employee has on their employer’s email system comes up. As things stand currently, the answer is not much.

Employers should publish and make known the email usage and privacy rules for their workplace. Employees have no legal recourse if they are terminated because they sent an email that violates a published company policy. Whether or not an employer monitors email for adherence to the published rules does not need to be disclosed by the employer.

Almost always, US Federal law is on the side of the employer. It gives the employer the right to monitor all email and Internet activity without informing the employee.

The leading cause (44% from a small sample of 25 companies that have recently terminated staff for email abuse) of email abuse based termination is due to the transmission of inappropriate material. The balance of the termination causes seem run the gamut from disclosing trade secrets to, yes indeed, planning parties. In almost all cases, the employee had received previous warnings.

Careful readers will have noticed my use of conditional clauses such as “almost always” above. This is due to a recent court decision that came down on the side of the employee which may be the start of a change. For more information, see Lara Curto v. Medical World Communications, Inc., et al.. This decision stated that in the case of a laptop that is taken to the employee’s home for work purposes the employee has the right to use the laptop for personal use. This decision points out that in today’s highly connected world the lines between work and private time, work and private communication are sometimes blurred to the point that an employee may not be able with reasonable effort to separate work from private life.

Joe Fox:   I hope she doesn't have one of those high squeaky voices like the mice in 'Cinderella', I hate that.