Could boss read employee’s personal email?

IT must often walk a fine line between protecting employees’ privacy and enforcing IT policies and procedures. Being on the wrong side of the line can get organizations into legal trouble.

In one recent case, an employee at a Georgia printing company was fired after he was caught doing work for a competing company owned by his wife while on his employer’s premises.

The employee frequently brought his own laptop to work to conduct business for the competitor. After catching wind of what was going on, his boss entered his office while he wasn’t there, and found an email concerning the brokering of jobs to the wife’s company on the laptop.

The supervisor printed the email and used it as evidence to terminate the employee. The employee then sued, claiming the company violated his right to privacy.

However, the court sided with the company. The employee’s privacy was not invaded because:

  1. The company had the authority to read the email — even though it was sent using a personal email account on a computer owned by the employee, he still used the company’s network to send it.
  2. The email concerned a matter affecting the company, so the supervisor had a right to read it.
  3. The snooping took place as  part of investigation into a serious violation of company policy by the employee.

What it means for IT: Email monitoring is often used to investigate employee wrongdoing these days. And as this decision shows, companies in most cases have a right to gather evidence contained in emails employees send while they’re at work.

Cite: Sitton v. Print Direction, Inc.

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