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Privacy issues and e-Mail monitoring

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in Human Resources

Q. We would like to monitor e-mail usage at our workplace. Can we access employee e-mail without violating their rights to privacy?

Under the California Constitution, private- as well as public-sector employees are protected from unreasonable intrusion into their privacy. However, an employee’s right to privacy is not absolute, as courts generally balance an individual’s reasonable expectation of privacy against the employer’s legitimate business interests.

There are measures that employers may take to avoid creating an employee expectation of privacy. For instance, all employers should have a written policy stating that e-mail messages contained in company computers are the employer’s property, and that the employer has the right to access these e-mail communications at all times.

Employers also should prohibit any improper use of e-mail and the Internet, specifically stating that employees may not transmit materials that could be construed as offensive. Finally, employers should limit employees’ personal use of e-mail and remind employees that such communications are not private.

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