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Is There Any Expectation of Privacy for Employee Work Emails?

Expectation of Privacy for Employee Work EmailsDo you have an expectation of privacy for employee work emails? Should you anticipate your employer reading your emails and other messages even if they have nothing to do with work?

According to the law, yes, your employer can read your emails. And employees have no expectation of privacy in the workplace. Employers can legally search employee workspaces including their:

  • Offices
  • Desks
  • Employee-owned vehicles
  • Electronic communication

Anything you say or do on a work device or during work time is fair game.

Avoid Using Company-Owned Devices for Personal Use

This doesn’t mean employers can search your personal phone, but they can limit or restrict its use during work hours. All devices owned by the company, even if you use a private account to communicate, are accessible to your employer. They cannot listen to personal phone calls you make on business phones, but they have access to private conversations exchanged in emails and by other electronic means.

Many employers opt to put restrictions on employee computer use to avoid problems with privacy. If employees cannot communicate about personal issues on work devices or during work hours, it eliminates any issues regarding the invasion of privacy.

For most employers, the goal isn’t to peep into the private lives of employees. They want to make sure the focus is on work and that work devices aren’t used inappropriately. They create policies to prevent any questions of privacy from arising before there’s a problem.

As an employee, you should not assume any expectation of privacy for employee work emails or when using company equipment to access social media accounts, personal email, or the internet. All of your normally private conversations aren’t private when they involve a work device.

Can My Employer Monitor My Phone Calls?

Your employer has a right to track and monitor any calls you make or receive related to business. However, federal law prohibits employers from monitoring your personal phone calls without permission. This is true even if you used a company phone to make the call. Your employer cannot listen in on personal calls or listen to the voicemail messages you receive at work.

Despite the power employers have to monitor certain aspects of your communication in the workplace, it’s important to review your company’s policies regarding the use of electronic devices. Many have established policies regarding what you can and cannot do during work hours. This includes what your employer has the freedom to monitor. These policies usually include information about what you can do if you feel your rights were violated by your employer, too.

However, it’s important to note, even if there is no specific policy regarding workplace device use or privacy or they don’t say in their policy that they monitor emails or online communication, you should never assume that electronic messages you send won’t be seen by someone without your permission.

It’s common for managers and business owners to implement monitoring software that lets them see if employees misuse digital resources. They do so to increase the productivity and safety of employees and to prevent theft. It’s always best to avoid sharing intimate details in messages sent on employer-owned devices, just in case.

If you’d like to discuss your company’s policy on workplace electronic communication or you have questions about your expectation of privacy in the workplace, contact Borrelli & Associates, P.L.L.C. to schedule a free consultation.


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