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Labor and Employment Law FAQs: Is it legal to access Employee Emails?

Labor and Employment LawDo you monitor employee emails? Is it even legal to do so? When, if ever, is it permissible to access employee emails? These are just a few of the questions employers frequently ask in regards to workplace communications. Many employers never think twice about accessing employee emails to verify the emails are strictly of a business nature and not personal or worse, unlawful. However, if you do not monitor employee email, you may open yourself and your business to unnecessary litigation. For example, if an employee uses his/her email to harass another employee, the victim could turn around and file a lawsuit against your business. So when is it legal to access employee emails? The Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (ECPA) The Electronic Communications Privacy Act and the Stored Wire Electronic Communications Act are commonly referred together as the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (ECPA), which replaced the outdated Federal Wiretap Act of 1968. The ECPA “protects wire, oral, and electronic communications while those communications are being made, are in transit, and when they are stored on computers (Federal Statutes).” The ECPA specifically addressed when an employer may intentionally intercept, access or use email sent to an employee. The most useful provision of the ECPA allows employers to access employee email with the employee’s consent, which can be obtained in one of two ways:

  1. Employers can ask their employees to sign a separate policy statement regarding the use of the email system.
  2. Employers can include an email policy in its employee handbook.

In both instances, the policy should state acceptable email usage. Are employee emails strictly for business or are personal emails permissible? Your policy should also state that emails may not contain unlawful, offensive or discriminatory material. Finally, the policy should inform employees that their email and other electronic communications may be monitored. You should also outline the consequences for violating the email policy. Labor and Employment LawIf you have any questions about Employee Emails or Labor and Employment Law, please contact Offit Kurman attorney and chair of the firm’s Labor and Employment Practice Group Howard K. Kurman at Mr. Kurman regularly counsels clients on all aspects of proactive employment/labor issues.       Offit Kurman Attorneys at Law: Labor & Employment Law Practice Group In today’s ultra-complicated workplace, there is a distinct advantage to having a legal partner, like Offit Kurman, with the knowledge and experience to provide sound guidance in labor and employment issues. The attorneys in our Labor & Employment Law Practice Group assist employers in staying current with changes in the law and making proactive decisions regarding workplace policy and procedure. From labor negotiations and alternative dispute resolution, to wage and hour investigations and charges of wrongful termination, the attorneys at Offit Kurman are skilled at helping to resolve the challenging workplace issues employers face every day. If you would like to learn more about Offit Kurman’s Labor & Employment Law Practice Group to see what we can do for you, please fill out our contact form to access the knowledgeable legal guidance that our experienced labor & employment attorneys offer. You can also connect with Offit Kurman via FacebookTwitterGoogle+YouTube, and LinkedIn. Sources: Employees and their Email Federal Statutes U.S. Department of Justice