If you use your employer’s computer system for e-mail or other Internet access, do so with the knowledge that your employer may monitor what e-mails were sent and what Internet sites you visited.
Workers should not legally expect privacy in such activities. Yet to remove any expectation of privacy by workers, employers should provide workers with a written policy on electronic communications in the workplace. This policy may be part of an employment manual or otherwise and should clearly notify the workers that the employer may from time to time monitor their electronic communications.
Such monitoring may be for a variety of legitimate business purposes. An employer may want to monitor and obtain specific evidence of misconduct of a worker. For example, if a worker complains to management that a co-worker is sexually harassing him by continually sending lewd and sexually explicit e-mails to the worker, the employer may have a legal obligation to investigate the claim and, if appropriate, take corrective action to relieve the worker from the sexual harassment of the co-worker.
Such an investigation would include a review of the e-mails even if the worker who received the harassing e-mails had deleted them. Likewise, an employer may suspect that a worker is providing confidential or proprietary information to a competitor or competing with the employer. It is not uncommon for such a disloyal worker to actually use the company computer system to further such competitive misconduct.
Employers may also want to have the ability to monitor worker e-mail and Internet access for the purpose of monitoring work performance.The employer may want to know whether a worker is spending company time on the Internet for personal matters rather than work-related matters. Random monitoring of a worker’s Internet access may show that some workers are quite adept at using the minimizing Windows feature to look like they are working when someone comes by but are really spending an inordinate amount of time on personal Internet matters rather than actually working the hours they are paid to work.
J. Daniel Marr is a Director and Shareholder at Hamblett & Kerrigan, P.A. His legal practice includes counseling businesses and individuals on a variety of legal issues and advocating on their behalf. Attorney Marr is licensed and practices in both New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Attorney Marr can be reached at [email protected].