Workplace E-Mail: It’s Not As Private As You Might Think

Sarah DiLuzio

The modem workplace has dramatically changed in the last two decades with the dawn of the technological revolution. One notable change has been the widespread use of e-mail in the workplace, as a means of both business and personal communication. Courts across the country have recently been called upon to decide just what, if any, privacy an employee can expect in her e-mail, particularly when weighed against the employer’s right to monitor the workplace. Most office employees falsely assume that the e-mail messages they send and receive are private and confidential. Actually, e-mail sent or received via the employer’s e-mail system is increasingly subject to company control and monitoring. This comment examines what existing law protects an employee’s right to privacy in her email. A brief look at possible Constitutional protections is followed by an examination of the most commonly-invoked statute in this are, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986. The emerging case law on this subject is also examined, with the conclusion that employees generally have no expectation of privacy in their workplace e-mail. Finally, this comment offers suggestions on how employees can protect their privacy and businesses can guard against lawsuits and retain control of their workplace.