‘Private’ email? Remind your employee that there’s no such thing!

May 13, 2011
in Employment Law

Make it clear with employees—early and often—that your electronic communications are not their private playground. Legally, it’s your organization’s property and you have the right to monitor every email as you wish.

Your electronic communication policy should explain that the organization owns all computer equipment, software and electronic communications. Erase any privacy expectations by requiring employees to sign an acknowledgment form that gives you the authority to review all electronic communications.

Recent case: When Gina Holmes announced at work she was pregnant, her supervisor allegedly became upset that Holmes would be out for four months. The two exchanged emails about the issue. Holmes then forwarded the email chain to a lawyer, requesting a referral to a labor attorney.

When Holmes later sued for pregnancy bias, the company used those emails as evidence against her. Holmes argued that the emails were privileged.

But the court tossed out her case. It noted that when she was hired, Holmes received a copy of the company handbook that clearly said the company could read anything sent through the system. It specifically warned employees they had no right to privacy if they used the system for personal communications. (Holmes v. Petrovich Devel­op­ment, No. C059133, Court of Appeal of California, 2011)

Final tip: Some employers go further by displaying a monitoring policy reminder on employees’ screens each time they log on. Employees must click “Yes” before continuing.

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