I just found out my company is spying on me by reading my personal e-mails. Do they have the right to do this?
The laws surrounding what your employer can access regarding your nine-to-five digital life are among the most evolving legal areas. Laws are reactive, so there’s always a lag between a technological advance and the legislation regarding it. As it now stands, your employer likely has the right to read e-mails on your work account. Whether it can read your personal e-mail that you retrieve on a work computer may vary based on your employer’s policies (ask an HR person or check your employee handbook). A recent case in New Jersey (Stengart v. Loving Care Agency Inc.) held that an employer could not read an employee’s personal e-mail because its policy did not explicitly state it could. But a company may, for instance, have a policy that a work computer is for business only; in other words, the company reserves the right to see anything an employee does on that computer. Your boss probably doesn’t have the right to get your personal passwords, but he could view screen images—including the G-chat conversation about the afternoon “meeting” you took at your boyfriend’s apartment. To be safe, consider other ways of accessing your personal e-mail account while on the job. A smartphone is a good alternative…unless, of course, it’s a company-owned device.
Ken Levinson is a trial lawyer at the Chicago firm Joseph, Lichtenstein & Levinson. Send your legal queries to firstname.lastname@example.org.