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Expert Answers to Biz Questions

Listen in! Pick up some expert advice to a reader's question that we selected from CyberSchmooz.

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The Biz Question

Hello All at IdeaCafe,

I'm currently finishing a contract with my old employer and need some advice with regard to email. It is being intercepted and read by my employer. I visited a colleague of mine and discussed a future position within his company. A job offer was made, I took the job on the spot. An email detailing the job was sent to me at work. My employer called my colleague up and started to harass him -- who is he, what is he doing offering me a job, and becoming very personal about me! Shock! Yikes!

Coincidence? No! The email was sent to me at 4.57pm, my employer was on the phone at 5.01pm. However, just to make sure that I wasn't paranoid, I set my employer up with two ficticious job offers, low and behold, the same kind of response.

On Saturday, I was at a conference, very angry/sad that my boss likes to sift through my email, so I discussed this topic with another colleague -- and what I heard made me so angry that I nearly lost it completel! This colleague has known about my boss's policy, and of course, he cannot give this infot o me regarding what my company does on the side, but, this colleague, has actually been privvy to my personal email -- SHOCKED! He does not even work for the company.

Of course, this is a lesson to me, but what can I do? Legal action? Where would that take me? Is a company allowed to do this? My job title is Technical Project Manager, my role as most people in the industry is subject to a non-disclosure agreement. My job is a fairly average job if you consider the "sensitive information" I deal with, that is, my position is not the most highly sensitive one.

Do I have any rights? Rocking the boat is one thing of which I do not want to do, but I am leaving this company and would like to know for the future, if I have any rights if personal email is read from my employer's Mail Server by my employer? I have changed all my email addresses, and host my mail elsewhere.

It is not a question of taking a person to court and demanding compensation, this is a question (in my eyes) of invading someone's privacy. This has been eating at me for the best part of two weeks and I am not feeling any better about this. I feel like saying something to my employer, but I would rather set them up (if the law is on my side etc...) and catch them red-handed at being more than nosey.

If someone has any "soothing" advice for the future, please, drop me a line, I will be most obliged in resolving what my naivite didn't teach me.

Answer from our Guest Expert Jeff Pollack of Mintz & Gold LLP

Hello, There!

Don't feel alone; your scenario isn't unusual. With the widespread use of electronics in the workplace, it has become increasingly simple for an employer to monitor employee communications. For instance, in addition to monitoring employee email, employers can easily monitor and review your voice-mail and a history of websites you've recently visited. The legality of such practices by private employers depends upon the law of the state where you're located. So, the answer to your question depends upon a few factors.

In What State Is Your Office or Work Computer Located?

Since there's no federal law prohibiting an employer from examining his own equipment, such as the computer and phone systems, you'd have to determine if state law affords you some protection as an employee. If you happen to be in California, for example, many state regulations protect employees. Georgia, on the other hand, has relatively few. If you let me know which state law applies, I can do some more specific research.

Did Your Employer Take Steps to Put You On Notice?

Another factor to consider here is what steps, if any, your employer took to put you on notice that your e-mail was subject to inspection and review. For example, did you receive an employee manual or other notice that explicitly stated that the employer reserved the right to inspect the company's computer systems, thus any email you'd receive at work?

Assuming there's no controlling state law, if your employer put you on notice that he could inspect his equipment, your consent to such inspection can be inferred simply from your continuing employment and your use of the computer system.

For additional information on employee email issues, visit the following sites. These links will take you directly to articles on employee privacy issues.

Please let me know if I can provide additional information.

Best of Luck,

Jeffrey D. Pollack

[The foregoing is not legal advice and you shouldn't rely upon it as such. Always consult an experienced practitioner before making decisions about your particular circumstances.]

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