Magazine article Risk Management

E-Mail Communication Not Necessarily Confidential

Magazine article Risk Management

E-Mail Communication Not Necessarily Confidential

Article excerpt

An employee, critical of his manager's performance, sends derogatory e-mail messages to the department supervisor from his home computer via the employer's electronic mail system. Despite company assurances that e-mail correspondence is confidential and private, the manager intercepts the messages and, based on the content, terminates the employee. Claiming he was wrongfully discharged, the employee alleges in federal court that the employer had invaded his right to privacy. The court rejects his argument, ruling that the company's interest in preventing inappropriate, unprofessional or even illegal conduct over its e-mail system outweighs any privacy interests that employees may have. An unlikely story? On the contrary, a similar case ended up in a Pennsylvania U.S. District Court (Smyth v. The Pillsbury Company). With the advent of electronic mail technology, cases like this are multiplying, pointing to the growing need for each company to devise and implement privacy policies regarding email and other communications systems.

While employer regulation and monitoring of employee use of company computer equipment and communications systems has not been thoroughly tested in the courts, the law has generally upheld employers' rights in this area. …

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