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Is it legal to monitor employee emails?

[caption id="attachment_4711" align="alignright" width="300"] Is it legal to monitor employee emails.[/caption]

Last week I got an interesting email from a client regarding the legality of monitoring and reading employee emails. There were some internal issues that were causing concern and they wanted to know what tools to use and how to go about implementing the process. Before looking into tools, I wanted to ensure that it was legal at all. The answers I found turned out to be a bit more complicated than we all thought. Today's post is going to share what we uncovered.

Basically, the ultimate answer was "yes, sort of." Of course that was the answer. This involves privacy, and ethics, and law, and a plethora of other considerations. It boiled down to proof. If an employee is using a company email address and sending out mail via the company email server, there is a good chance it is already being screened and monitored. Most of the time it's to ensure backup. In some cases it is to protect and safeguard intellectual property.

The ECPA - Electronic Communications Privacy Act was designed to protect citizens from monitoring like wire taps. For businesses though, the law includes exemptions regarding business use that allows companies to do monitoring. The courts know this and generally rule in favor of the company.

There does need to be a good reason to monitor emails. One article I read stated one company found employees collecting monies or fostering deals for themselves rather than passing them through the company. (this actually was what my client was trying to monitor). In some cases, this resulted in court cases claiming theft and fraud. In other situations, employees were making derogatory and slanderous comments about other employees, management and customers.

From what I read, there is a very fine line between what's right and what's a violation of privacy. When I talked it over with my client, I suggested we talk to their lawyer. The lawyer basically echoed what I had discovered. If the email belongs to the company, so does the content of the email.

One final suggestion I made to my client was to prepare an email to his employees letting them know that, for business purposes, emails would be monitored. That way it is out in the open. Clear. Concise. And if someone complains, well, to me that sort of raises a red flag. My client thought so as well.

Happy and safe emailing.

Patricia Egen Consulting, LLC

803 Creek Overlook, Chattanooga, TN 37415
Main office: 423-875-2652 • Arizona office: 480-788-7504 • Florida office: 754-300-2827