California employees have a constitutional right to privacy. That doesn’t mean, however, that employers can’t monitor e-mail sent to and from company computers and servers. The key: a policy that makes it clear that transmittals are not private.
For example, warn employees they may not use company computers or other communications systems in anything but a professional manner. Ban all obscene, explicit or harassing communication, including pictures, drawings and videos.
Recent case: Kevin Sporer worked for UAL Corp. as a mechanic and had a company-issued computer.
UAL had a strict policy on e-mail and other communications that prohibited transmitting or storing any suggestive material. In addition, whenever employees signed on to the company computer system, they had to click on a button acknowledging that they understood the communications policy and knew the company monitored all e-mails.
Sporer received an e-mail from a friend which had a subject line memo reading “Skeleton Fun” and contained a video of cartoon skeleton figures engaging in sex acts. He was caught forwarding the e-mail to his home account and was warned that he could be terminated if it happened again.
It did. Another friend sent an e-mail with the subject header “Amazing oral talent!!!!” Instead of deleting the suggestive e-mail, which had an attachment containing a video of sex acts, he forwarded it to his home account. He was again caught and then fired.
Sporer sued, alleging invasion of privacy. The court said he had no reasonable expectation of privacy because he was aware of the company rule and had clicked on the button acknowledging that he understood he was being monitored. (Sporer v. UAL Corporation, No. 08-02835, ND CA, 2009)