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What Are Your Rights Regarding Email Privacy In The Workplace?

By: Anna Hinds BA (hons) - Updated: 9 Aug 2018 | comments*Discuss
 
Email Privacy Workplace Employer

Is someone spying on your emails? Use an email account at work and they could well be. The laws protecting your email privacy at work are sticky: so get to know your rights, and make sure you maintain your dignity. Did you hear the one about the woman whose husband burned her tea? Best not…

Does the Law Protect My Privacy Regarding Emails At Work?

There are two main principles governing your email privacy in the workplace. There are laws protecting you, and laws protecting your employers.

On the one hand, you're in the workplace. You're on someone else's time and money. The law thus allows employers staff monitoring; and they can do this for all kinds of reasons - some of which can, unfortunately, be used to veil ulterior motives. Nevertheless, the person paying your wages is entitled to fire you for email misuse, and - more importantly - they can monitor your email usage to find out whether you're guilty of it.

On the other hand, the Human Rights laws state that everyone is entitled to respect for their private and family life. This translates into a reasonable amount of personal correspondence. You can write letters and receive telephone calls from family and friends, using discretion to decide when it's necessary or important. This right now covers emailing, too. After all, how else do you maintain a social life when you're at work 9-5?

In April 2007 an employee at a Welsh College won a case against her employer, who had been monitoring her emails. She claimed they were intruding on her privacy; they claimed they were trying to find out whether she was misusing work hours. She won because the employer was shown to be infringing her right to a privacy.

But don't presume the courts will rule in your favour: in 2006 a survey of UK businesses showed that a third had fired an employee in the last 12 months for email misuse. Stop to think before you forward that cheeky Christmas e-card: otherwise you could be one of the next ex-employees.

How Email Monitoring Works

It takes one piece of software to work behind the scenes on your PC or company network. It could be busy taking screen snapshots, capturing personal passwords, storing sent and received emails, and blocking banned websites. And the very worst thing about this software is that it can be installed and run without your knowledge - it's virtually undetectable. Of course, it's a very sneaky way of monitoring staff in the workplace, and your employer is obliged to tell you what they are using, so play safe - and ask.

How can I Protect my Email Privacy In The Workplace?

If you're worried about your email privacy in the workplace, consider the following actions:

  1. Ask your employer to clarify their privacy policy: are your emails monitored when you're at work, when you're absent, if at all? Your employer should provide a clear policy setting out the nature of any monitoring of staff and (most importantly) exactly what is seen as a breach. For instance, most employers allow a certain amount of internet or email use provided it doesn't interfere with work; some have a simple 'no obscene site' ban.

  2. Ask your employer to create a 'personal email' template, with a simple header identifying personal content. This way, you and other employees can write emails using this template, and your employer is obliged to discard them if they do need to monitor staff or check your emails (perhaps when you go on holiday).

  3. Keep work confined to work, and use a personal email address. If your employer's policy allows staff to indulge in a small amount of personal internet usage, then you can legitimately send and receive email. But set up a personal email address with one of the free suppliers, and your employer won't be able to track your emails so easily. Unless they use one of the invasive monitoring software programmes (which can take screenshots and save passwords), they won't be able to read anything you send. Phew!

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[Add a Comment]
@Dolly - if there was an investigation taking place then I'm sure your colleague can access the emails written in work time if it forms part of the case.
RuthIE - 10-Aug-18 @ 11:23 AM
My co-worker who shares the same grade and job title as me recently went into emails of a colleague who had left and whothey managed. This co worker then brought a case against me for bullying and harassment for keeping tabs on his timekeeping contained in these emails - comments such as is he in. Both myself and the collegue who left raised grievances for discrimination and failed. Yet this guy has won his grievance using our evidence. Can he go into emails and do this?. He should have looked at emails from a.particular date but instead chose to witch hunt me by looking at emails from months ago.
Dolly - 9-Aug-18 @ 10:10 PM
I resigned from my job because I was being bullied by a integration manager. When I handed in my resignation they stopped my email account while I was still working for them. And gave all my emails to the woman who had been bullying me. She then emailed my coworkers saying she has read all my emails. Is the company aloud to give her my private emails from when I worked for them. Can they do this? I can no longer access my emails either to check things I had on their they gave me no notice they would be closing the account I gave 3 months notice of leaving.
MIa - 2-Jul-18 @ 5:37 PM
@Aimee-I believe under data protection law you are entitled to see this if they hold this information on you (so provided they hadn't deleted it or shred paper copy)
Tasha - 22-Jun-18 @ 6:38 AM
@Amiee - if there is an investigation or you receive a warning on the back of it, then you can ask to know what the contents are.
LisaM - 5-Jun-18 @ 2:13 PM
Hi, I was told by my manager that they received a very ‘harsh’ email from another manager about me. I have asked to see said email but was told it was irrelevant. Am I within my right to ask to see this?
Amiee - 30-May-18 @ 10:48 PM
Hi, last year I went on the sick with work stress. During this time my employer decided to get my password changed so that she only had access to it. She then sent emails as me and deleted emails and then accused me of not paying a bill. My employer sent 72 emails with my signature on the bottom. I have asked for any information they have on monitoring emails and changing password this I have not received. I believe it is against the law to change someone’s password and then act as them even if it is a work email, is this true. If so how could I go about bringing legal action against my employer?I was not notified of the change. They have denied me any information about my emails. I have contacted the ICO and made an IFO and SAR. My employer is being evasive with the information I require. I am also going through ACAS for this. Please could I have any advice on this. Thank you.
KSY - 5-May-18 @ 9:06 PM
I am currently working for a UK subsidiary of a Spanish company and we have recently fired a sales employee in the UK. The staff in Spain said we do not have rights to access the former employee's email account due to privacy laws. Is this true? We need access to his email to see where he has left account correspondence which has an impact on the business. Could someone please provide clarification. Thanks!
Tgirlnc - 27-Apr-18 @ 2:12 PM
Hi, I work in IT, and recently caught a colleague attempt to access my emails. I've screen captured the logs and escalated, but it looks like this colleague will be allowed to come back to work! Any advice on how I precede? Whats my rights?
George - 24-Apr-18 @ 9:03 PM
Bryster- Your Question:
Hi.we are being taken over as of 1st October and the company.i work for doesn't officially recognise unions but I've been in one for many years. Staff are a bit concerned about the takeover despite us being transferred over with TUPE. So I sent them a link to join a union butbive had a grilling about it. I don't personally consider it misuse of emails because it's work related nut they're sending it to HR. Where do I stand?

Our Response:
In this instance, you may wish to give ACAS a call for direct advice.
YourPrivacy - 9-Mar-18 @ 2:33 PM
Hi.we are being taken over as of 1st October and the company.i work for doesn't officially recognise unions but I've been in one for many years. Staff are a bit concerned about the takeover despite us being transferred over with TUPE. So I sent them a link to join a union butbive had a grilling about it.I don't personally consider it misuse of emails because it's work related nut they're sending it to HR.Where do i stand?
Bryster - 8-Mar-18 @ 11:18 PM
@Fred - if the emails are for the purposes of investigation, there is not much you can do, except to seek advice from a legal professional.
JonY - 27-Feb-18 @ 11:46 AM
I work as a contractor for a large company. I am in dispute with my HR department over my contract and it has turned a bit nasty. The HR guy has sent all my emails to my manager at the company where I am working but who is not my employer. I feel this is massive breach of my privacy. What can I do?
Fred - 26-Feb-18 @ 2:06 PM
at my job we all have personal emails but are barred from using them or having access to them we are forced to use the same email to conduct everything including sending things to our HR or Boss about private matters.Since they do not answer their phones or seem to respond to things outside of emailing them in a timely matter.Me and my Co-workers are forced to send stuff to them via the singular shared email which poses a problem of privacy.I have seen somethings that they have sent regarding information that none of us aside from our managers should be seeing.This also goes for the receptionist who is constantly having to correspond with people sending account information, orders information, payment info, contact info.We have inquired about getting access to our private work emails just for the use of correspondence with management and HR and they claim its a security risk to allow us access to use the private emails that we have on the system already and refuse to discuss it.Is this a violation of our privacy? do we have any recourse? if anyone knows that would help greatly because right now we have just been avoiding sending anything to our Superiors out of fear that everyone can see and read it.
Tiger - 23-Feb-18 @ 3:49 PM
at my job we all have personal emails but are barred from using them or having access to them we are forced to use the same email to conduct everything including sending things to our HR or Boss about private matters.Since they do not answer their phones or seem to respond to things outside of emailing them in a timely matter.Me and my Co-workers are forced to send stuff to them via the singular shared email which poses a problem of privacy.I have seen somethings that they have sent regarding information that none of us aside from our managers should be seeing.This also goes for the receptionist who is constantly having to correspond with people sending account information, orders information, payment info, contact info.We have inquired about getting access to our private work emails just for the use of correspondence with management and HR and they claim its a security risk to allow us access to use the private emails that we have on the system already and refuse to discuss it.Is this a violation of our privacy? do we have any recourse? if anyone knows that would help greatly because right now we have just been avoiding sending anything to our Superiors out of fear that everyone can see and read it.
Tiger - 23-Feb-18 @ 3:44 PM
at my job we all have personal emails but are barred from using them or having access to them we are forced to use the same email to conduct everything including sending things to our HR or Boss about private matters.Since they do not answer their phones or seem to respond to things outside of emailing them in a timely matter.Me and my Co-workers are forced to send stuff to them via the singular shared email which poses a problem of privacy.I have seen somethings that they have sent regarding information that none of us aside from our managers should be seeing.This also goes for the receptionist who is constantly having to correspond with people sending account information, orders information, payment info, contact info.We have inquired about getting access to our private work emails just for the use of correspondence with management and HR and they claim its a security risk to allow us access to use the private emails that we have on the system already and refuse to discuss it.Is this a violation of our privacy? do we have any recourse? if anyone knows that would help greatly because right now we have just been avoiding sending anything to our Superiors out of fear that everyone can see and read it.
Tiger - 23-Feb-18 @ 3:41 PM
Hasey - Your Question:
Hi GuysI had a period of time off work last year following a heart attack, during which time my manager took 'control' of my inbox to ensure that my email was being managed and not stacking up. I have been back to work for six months now and despite 2 friendly requests he has refused to remove access to my 'inbox' claiming that with his help it allows my inbox to be kept tidy - despite the fact that since he came back I don't think he has ever looked at my e-mail. We are allowed reasonable personal of email and I am concerned that my privacy in respect of my personal emails is being breached. Your advice would be appreciated. Many Thanks

Our Response:
If you’re a worker and you’ve tried solving a problem or concern informally by talking to your manager but you’re not satisfied, you can make a formal grievance complaint in writing, please see link here .
YourPrivacy - 9-Feb-18 @ 2:47 PM
Hi Guys I had a period of time off work last year following a heart attack, during which time my manager took 'control' of my inbox to ensure that my email was being managed and not stacking up. I have been back to work for six months now and despite 2 friendly requests he has refused to remove access to my 'inbox' claiming that with his help it allows my inbox to be kept tidy - despite the fact that since he came back I don't think he has ever looked at my e-mail. We are allowed reasonable personal of email and I am concerned that my privacy in respect of my personal emails is being breached. Your advice would be appreciated. Many Thanks
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ember kardashian - 23-Dec-17 @ 6:49 PM
Thank you LunaJ. I appreciate your help.
Confused - 1-Dec-17 @ 6:30 PM
@Confused - you should log out when you leave your desk. I wouldn't let anyone send emails under my name. I can't see that being your employer's company policy either.
LunaJ - 1-Dec-17 @ 3:38 PM
Hi, can anyone tell me whether colleagues have the right to access my login and send emails from my email address whilst they are sitting at my desk to answer the phone and receive visitors when I am away from my desk on breaks? I am not taking about emergency emails here. I am only ever away from my desk for 2 minutes so could easily send the emails with their messages myself when I get back to my desk. If they ARE allowed to do this, why would they refuse a request by me to add their own name at the bottom of emails they send from my email address? What is the etiquette here? Thank you.
Confused - 1-Dec-17 @ 1:00 PM
A co-worker was sharing complaintsin an email about another co-worker by clients the Co- Worker the co worker so the complaints and now is calling meeting with HR to tell her she can't do that. Can she if the Clients complain to her .
coworker - 21-Jul-17 @ 2:13 PM
I work in Lumbermill and we got along just fine for all these decades without video surveillance and now we are all under digital surveillance whether we like it or not.This company spews safety or theft etc each time they want their way but their cameras have never caught what appears to be an inside job possibly someone in management.The supervisor's spend countless hours each day just watching and watching instead of doing their jobs the way they used to and getting out of their offices and helping out using a hands on approach.This has led to low morale in all employees and a very high turn around in employees who have stated never again will they work for these micromanagers. Question is is this information gathering of all of us employees legal, especially when it has been so unnecessary up until now?
Geronimo - 19-Aug-16 @ 12:13 PM
I am a subcontractor for a company and rent with a monthly fee an email address from them for using when communicating with others to do business on their account. Is anyone from their company allow to spy on the content of the emails on this account. What laws govern the protection on this account?
13bear - 4-Jul-16 @ 2:26 PM
I've just been on my personal email account (hotmail) and noticed on my activity log my manager has been accessing and reading my personal emails using my work laptop while I was away on leave.I've come back to the office today and been suspended based on the content of my personal emails not the use of personal emails in work time.Is this a beach of privacy?
Saz - 14-May-16 @ 6:09 AM
Stulaw - Your Question:
Company I work for integral is insistent that employees must supply a private email address so office and management can email daily to send out work info. They don't have company emails for field engineers. I have refused as my contract has no reference to supplying a personal email.Am I correct to refuse to,use my own personal email address for work.?

Our Response:
Yes, you are allowed to refuse if your contract does not say this in any clause. You would have to negotiate with your employer to either provide a separate email address, or you could launch a work one yourself - if it is needed to supply work information.
YourPrivacy - 29-Feb-16 @ 12:12 PM
Company I work for integral is insistent that employees must supply a private email address so office and management can email daily to send out work info. They don't have company emails for field engineers. I have refused as my contract has no reference to supplying a personal email. Am I correct to refuse to,use my own personal email address for work.?
Stulaw - 28-Feb-16 @ 2:49 PM
I was recently disqualified from driving by a magistrates court and today learned that the local news paper has printed an article disclosing my personal info without my consent is there any law I can use to make them remove this. Also I believe this personal info was given to them by the prosecutor in court is there any law against this? Is there any lawful protection to prevent this happening again? And lastly I wish to send them an email and do not want this info published either do I have any lawful protection against disclosure?
Carve - 15-Jan-16 @ 10:55 PM
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