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Workplace E-Mail Privacy

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Why Would My Workplace Have an Email Policy?

Not only are employers in most cases permitted to monitor employee’s workplace computer activities, but today’s technology makes it extremely easy to do so. Often motivated by litigation concerns as much as the desire to evaluate worker productivity, many employers monitor all aspects of employee’s computer work station, including email and Internet browsing history. Generally, these policies will likely be discussed:

Can My Employer Monitor My Computer Workstation?

Although some states have established laws granting employees privacy in certain areas of the office, desks and computer terminals are not included. Since company networks and terminals are property of your employer, it has access to them always (this includes using a work laptop at home). Some of the common types of computer monitoring include:

  • Computer software that enables employers to see what is on the screen or stored on the terminal. This software may also track internet browsing and email.
  • Employers can track the amount of time an employee spends away from the computer or the amount of time the computer is idle.
  • Keystroke monitoring tells an employer the number of keystrokes made by employees per hour.

Can My Employer Read My E-Mail?

In the majority of cases, workplace communications are not private. Courts have recently found that employees are not entitled to e-mail privacy. If you are writing from an e-mail account which was given to you by your company, your employer owns the messages you write and receive. Furthermore, your company may:

  • Monitor e-mail written from a non-company based account, such as Hotmail or Yahoo!; and
  • Track and read any instant messages sent from or received by your computer.

Is My E-Mail Ever Private?

Most likely, your employer can access all the email messages that have moved through its network. Therefore, your company may be able to track your electronic communications even if you:

  • Delete messages from the account;
  • Use encryption to scramble messages; and
  • Mark certain messages as "private."

Do I Need an Employment Lawyer?

If you have concerns about your company’s privacy policies, or if you have been terminated because of workplace communications, you should contact an employment lawyer. A skilled employment attorney can notify you of your privacy rights and if you have any legal recourse against your employer.

Photo of page author John Kirby

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 07-24-2018 07:35 PM PDT

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