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What Are Your Rights Regarding Email Privacy In The Workplace?

By: Anna Hinds BA (hons) - Updated: 19 Aug 2016 | 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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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
Hi I am being bullied at work, the person had left her work emails open. A saw my name so I opened it Because of all bulling Repeated to my manager she informed that is not data projection and she asked did you see anything you didn't like I replied YES then proceeded to advised me that I have breach data protection How is right ?
Sal - 25-Nov-15 @ 12:12 AM
Seddon - Your Question:
Hi,We have just been told a gentleman man who's in charge of the community centre has been watching a group women we a sewing group. we rent the community hall we are the only one using the hall. We try on dress which means us taking are clothes off , in a room full of women which has the access door clocked.We have been told that one of the man that's been 'watching us' this came out in a community meeting. from the time we open to the time we close. * we are the only ones that should be in that part of the building which this man knows this.Where to we stand.

Our Response:
In the first instance, you would have to report this to the person who runs the community centre and they will be able to investigate and advise with regards to your best course of action.
YourPrivacy - 16-Nov-15 @ 2:31 PM
hi, We have just been told a gentleman man who's in charge of the community centre has been watching a group women we a sewing group. we rent the community hall we are the only one using the hall. We try on dress which means us taking are clothes off , in a room full of women which has the access door clocked. We have been told that one of the man that's been'watching us' this came out in a community meeting. from the time we open to the time we close. * we are the only ones that should be in that part of the building which this man knows this. Where to we stand.
Seddon - 16-Nov-15 @ 8:42 AM
I work night shifts in a hotel and the hotel I work in often requires two of us to work together for 8 hours, due to the size of the hotel. The person I was working with took offence to an e-mail I sent to another work colleague.The e-mail I had sent was private and had been sent out of office hours.However, this message was visible to him because I took out my own laptop and logged onto Facebook during a period of break time (with night shifts, we have not been given any set breaktime so it tends to be a grey area).Once my colleague spotted this, he must've taken a snapshot of it and decided to put in a complaint.A supervisor had accepted the snapshot of the private message as proof and I am now to attend a disciplinary hearing. I am wondering if this is some sort of breech of my personal messages.My employers did not technically intercept my message but they took it in confidence of my work colleague taking a snapshot.
RedJack - 9-Sep-14 @ 11:36 AM
I discovered yesterday that my employer is checking all my sent and received emails. I only use my work address for work related issues. I discovered this when my MD queried the content of a sent email. I have not been notified that my emails would be monitored in fact when I asked if this was the case back in July 2013 I was told my emails were not monitored Should I take any action or just accept this. Regards
Pepsi401 - 24-Jan-14 @ 6:46 AM
hello.. i am a security guard in wales, i work a 12 hour shift where i am to stay within my hut at all times unless i am signing in people. My question to you all. is my company allowed to put a camera in my security hut? i have to eat in there. there are no changin areas. thanks alot :)
noentry - 28-Sep-12 @ 11:48 AM
I was a contractor for a company in California and my contract was up. It has been a year since I've worked for that particular company but I've just found out that they still have my old email active and are monitoring who is emailing that account. Can they do that?
jstbnreal - 4-Apr-11 @ 7:18 PM
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