According to the State of California Department of Justice, “Your employer is generally allowed to monitor your workplace communications, such as business phone calls and computer usage, and to access to your voicemail and e-mail.” Though this has been the law for a considerable amount of time, employees across the state are still having a hard time accepting that their employers can review any of their email correspondence at work. The law is clear in its meaning when it states that “your employer is generally allowed to…access your…e-mail,” and does not leave much room for argument on the employee’s part. However, as with all laws, there are exceptions. If you are worried about your employer monitoring your work emails, it would be beneficial for you to first understand what the law does and does not allow your employer to do in regards to monitoring work correspondences.
Four Things You Need to Understand About California’s Email Communications Privacy Laws
The Pleasanton business attorneys at Garcia & Gurney, ALC have put together this list of four things that all California employees and employers need to understand about email communications and privacy laws:
Employers are entitled to monitor pretty much anything they can access on the company’s system—even an employee’s personal email account.
Most larger California corporations have a system in place that is designed to monitor all correspondence that occurs on company systems, even correspondence sent from an employee’s private email account. This type of monitoring is perfectly legal. Furthermore, when cases resulting from workplace email monitoring do arise, the courts almost always side with the employer. Their reasoning is that employers have the right to monitor what employees do with company time and on company systems and equipment.
There is one exception, however. A 2014 ruling by the National Labor Relations Board found that if employees were using their work emails for union organizing, their employers could not monitor the correspondence. The overreaching conclusion is that employers are not allowed to monitor an employee’s emails related to union organizing, even if they were sent using company equipment and on the company server.
Any emails, text messages, or other electronic communication sent on a company’s system can be used as evidence.
Typically, an employer will only monitor his or her employees’ correspondence if he or she believes there is a reason to do so. For instance, if rumor has it that one higher up plans to leave the company for a competitor, and it was said that she planned on taking some company trade secrets with her, the employer would want to clarify whether or not that was true. If they were to find correspondence between the suspect employee and the competitor confirming the rumors, the employer would have legal grounds to fire that employee, citing the correspondence as evidence.
Emails are monitored by keyword.
Most employers do not have time to read through every single one of their employees’ email correspondences, but that does not mean that inappropriate emails will make it through the cracks. Most companies have keyword software that is programmed to detect certain words and to flag them for employer review.
Employees could get in trouble for emailing company documents to their personal accounts.
Employees do it all the time: They still have work to do, but they just want to go home, so they forward the documents they were working on to their personal email account. While this may seem like a perfectly innocent thing to do, it has landed some individuals in legal trouble. The problem? Forwarding company information to a non-company account and server could be construed as “stealing company property.” Employees should always be aware of company email policies before sending any correspondence via their company account or on the company server—especially when it comes to confidential documents, or documents containing information of value.
Consult a Pleasanton Business Attorney
At Garcia & Gurney, ALC, our Pleasanton business attorneys strive to help employees and employers work together to create a fair, honest, and integral workplace. By assisting employers with drafting company policies that clearly outline how and when electronic communications will be monitored, our lawyers can help reduce the risk for legal recourse in the workplace. If you are a California employer and you wish to define company communication policies, or if you are an employee and you feel as if your rights have been breached, reach out to our employment lawyers at 925-468-0400 or online.