If you had an employee you suspected of inappropriate use of emails – perhaps for work unrelated to your business – would you have a right to review those emails?
As with many issues – it depends.
If an employee has used a company email system to send emails – that employee has no expectation of privacy. Courts generally consider workplace email systems to be the property of the employer and employees are not entitled to expect privacy when receiving, sending, printing, or otherwise transmitting emails on those systems.
Human resource professionals report that as many as two-thirds of all U.S. companies monitor employee emails on company email systems and that as many as half of those companies have fired employees for email infractions.
So is an employer free to read employee emails carte blanche?
Again, as long as the employer has notified employees in advance that their e-mails may be monitored and any review of an employee’s emails is done for “valid business reasons” – the answer is yes.
What constitutes a “valid business reason?” Here are several:
- A need to secure evidence in the event of a lawsuit
- To insure that the workplace is free from harassment of any kind
- To protect company secrets or protect a company’s brand
Is there an exception to employer rights in these matters?
Yes. The National Labor Relations Board has ruled that employees may use company email systems during non-working time for the purposes of organizing a union and that those activities cannot be monitored or blocked by an employer.
Can employers monitor the personal email accounts of employees?
Connecticut law prohibits employers from requesting or requiring access to online accounts used by employees (or an applicant) exclusively for personal purposes unrelated to any business purpose of the individual’s employer or prospective employer.
There are exceptions though. Employers may request access to personal online accounts to investigate compliance with prohibitions against work-related employee misconduct, state or federal laws, or regulatory requirements. Such investigations must be based on the employer’s “receipt of specific information about activity on an employee or applicant’s personal online account.” Employers can also ask for access to personal email accounts based on receipt of specific information suggesting an employee has used their personal email account in an unauthorized fashion to transfer proprietary, confidential or financial information belonging to an employer.