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In City of Ontario v. Quon, the Supreme Court ruled that employers have the right to read employees’ text messages – including personal ones – if they believe that the workplace rules are being violated. Though this ruling was handed down over six years ago, it is still a point of contention: Is it legal for employers to read their workers’ personal correspondence, even if it is sent on company equipment? Many California employees argue that no, it is not, but this belief has landed many individuals in hot water, as it is, in fact, very much legal.

What are California Employers Legally Allowed to Monitor? 

If an employee uses company devices (laptops, mobile phones, desktops, and tablets), their employer is legally allowed to monitor their activities on those devices, particularly if the employer believes that those gadgets are becoming a distraction. For instance, if an employer believes that a certain employee is spending more time at work texting than working, he or she may pull up the employee’s cell phone records to review the text log. If text records indicate that the employee spends approximately two hours every day communicating with an unknown number, the employer may use those records to justify and administer appropriate consequences.

An employer may also monitor an employee’s cell phone use if he or she believes that the employee was dishonest about how he or she spent company time and resources. For instance, if an individual were to use the company car to take a family vacation, the destination of which they plugged into the company phone’s GPS system, and then record the mileage and time it took to get there on the company’s expense sheet, the employer has every right to use the phone’s GPS records to prove that the miles and hours recorded were not actually spent working, as the employee claimed.

If you are a California employer, it is important that you know your rights before monitoring employee cell phone and computer records, though. To stay within the legal boundaries, our Pleasanton employment attorneys at Garcia & Gurney, ALC recommend following these conditions:

  • Monitor for the purpose of checking in on employee performance and productivity only;
  • Refrain from monitoring employees’ personal cell phones and email accounts;
  • Inform employees’ that their company devices will be monitored when necessary; and
  • Monitor only devices that you, the employer, legally own.

How Far is Employer Monitoring Allowed to Go?

While reading an employee’s text messages or emails may seem like an invasion of privacy, it is perfectly legal so long as the content is not of a private nature. Unfortunately, text messages do not come with warnings or subject lines that read, “Confidential” or “For Mike’s Eyes Only.” Therefore, is impossible for an employer to really know whether or not a correspondence is work related or private in nature until after they have opened it. Because of this, it is not recommended that employers go around reading their employees’ text or email communications. Doing so can land them in serious legal trouble if they were to accidentally obtain information the employee would otherwise not have wanted them to know.

Consult a Pleasanton Business Attorney Before Monitoring 

At Garcia & Gurney, ALC, we understand California employment law and work with both employers and employees to uphold that law. If you currently monitor your employees’ company devices, or if you are thinking about doing so, consult with a Pleasanton business attorney regarding your rights. There are many legal issues that can arise from monitoring employee devices, even if they are company-owed. Our lawyers can help you draft a new company policy that informs employees of your right to monitor, as well as waivers for employees to sign upon receiving a company device. By informing your employees of your right to monitor, you can avoid any legal headaches in the future should an individual become disgruntled by your actions. To consult with a lawyer today, call 925-468-0400, or schedule a consultation online.

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