Can My Employer Read My Emails?
Email has become an accessible and pervasive aspect of our lives. On our phones, computers, and even watches, it is easy to get in the habit of checking our email anytime and anywhere. However, could checking your email at work, or getting too comfortable accessing your personal emails at work, have negative employment consequences? There has been a notable increase in the number of terminations and lawsuits in recent years related to employee emails that were accessed or reviewed by the employer. The California laws with regard to electronic communications are not terribly well defined, but we do have some guidance on whether it is legal for your employer to read your emails and in what situations that might be the case.
Unauthorized Access to Employee Emails
The Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (ECPA) is a federal law that plainly establishes that it is illegal for employers to gain unauthorized access to an employee’s email. A situation in which unauthorized access may occur is if an employee is accessing their personal email. This is true even if the employee is accessing their personal email on a work device, such as a phone or computer. Merely using your personal email at work or on a work device does not give your employer the right to access an employee’s personal email account or review any personal messages. While using your personal email at work, on work devices, or during the workday, may be against company policy, they can take disciplinary action against the employee without having to access or review their emails. Accessing or reviewing an employee’s personal email is almost always illegal, and should be avoided. If your personal emails have been reviewed by your employer without your permission and negative employment action was taken against you as a result, it is a good idea to talk to a lawyer to determine what legal recourse is available to you.
Authorized Access to Employee Emails
It’s important to note that the ECPA does say that there are situations in which access to an employee’s emails is authorized. In almost all cases, employers have authorization to access and review an employee’s work emails. The employer has a much stronger case for reviewing emails when the employee is using an email provided by their employer or the employer’s server. The employer also has a stronger case if they have a clearly defined digital use policy, such as telling employees up front, in writing, that any company emails are subject to surveillance. If the company does not have a policy with regard to emails and digital surveillance, their case for reviewing emails will be weaker, but the courts are still likely to side with them if the email they accessed was on their own servers and email account.
Contact the Costanzo Law Firm
If you have been terminated or suffered a detrimental employment action due to your employer reading your personal emails, or for any other illegal reasons, the experienced San Jose employment law attorneys at the Costanzo Law Firm are ready to help. Contact the Costanzo Law Firm today to schedule a consultation.