Monitoring Employee Emails: An Overview

Good communication is one of the most important factors for any businesses success, and that starts with the means to communicate easily. Workplaces throughout California provide their employees with a wide range of tools for communication and productivity, including phones, computers, email addresses, and website space.

These tools, when used correctly, ultimately contribute to the growth of any company, which is why so many employers are quick to provide them to their employees.

When an employer controls the means by which employees communicate, however, certain legal questions arise, including concerns about whether and when an employer is allowed to monitor an employee’s online behavior or emails. Understanding where the line is drawn is an important part of fostering an environment conducive to good communication in your company.

Monitoring Employee Emails: Understanding the Law

The law on when, whether, and how employers can read their employees’ emails is not well settled, so it is valuable to get an experienced attorney’s advice when possible. The federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (ECPA) prohibits “unauthorized access” to others’ electronic communications, including email messages.

However, many states, including California, have concluded that employers’ monitoring of employee emails is not always “unauthorized.” Generally speaking, employers are not authorized to read an employee’s personal email, even if the employee checks it using a work device. An employee logging into their personal Gmail account, for instance, does not automatically give their employer permission to log into or read that account as well.

If the email address and server are owned by the employer, however, the employer has far more leeway to monitor the contents of the emails sent and received over that system. This is the case in many instances, as employers will often provide employees with email addresses to be used specifically for conducting business.

Monitoring Employee Emails: Best Practices

Any employer wishing to monitor how employees use their employer-owned email should create a consistent, clear policy that fits within existing law. Your lawyer can help. Consider including in your policy:

  • A clear warning that you, as the employer, reserve the right to check at any time on the content of email sent over your system,

  • A statement that work email is for “business use only,” and

  • A statement of the consequences for violation of this policy.

By putting these sorts of policies in place, you are both covering your bases legally, and making communication in the workplace more efficient. Well-written rules clear up confusion and contribute to the success of any company.

Knowledgeable California Employment Law Attorneys

The ever-changing landscape of technology and communication can create problems, but understanding the law and how it applies to business communication and email can save you from making costly legal mistakes.

Staying in compliance with California’s complex employment laws is essential so that your business can focus on its goals. At CKB VIENNA LLP, our experienced California employment law attorneys are dedicated to helping our clients resolve their legal questions and disputes, so they can focus on achievement. To learn more, contact us by telephone at 909-980-1040 or use our short online form.

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