We often have clients ask us if their boss, you know the one they are having problems with, can monitor their e-mail account; that is "a personal email account." Often, when at work we wonder, day dream and get board thinking of what we have yet to do for the day, so instead we fire up the g-mail or Yahoo! account and email our friends.
Just because I used the company computer, what gives my boss the right to monitor or read my personal emails? Can my boss do that? There are several laws that employers risk violating by accessing an employee's "personal" or web-based e-mail account. The federal Stored Communications Act is one such law and is the one that seems to result in more liability than others.
In Pure Power Boot Camp, Inc. v. Warrior Fitness Boot Camp, LLC, 08 Civ. 4810 (THK) (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 22, 2010), two employees were contemplating opening up a competing business with their employer. The employees left the company, and started up their business, competing with their former-employer. After the employees left, the employer went into their personal emails accounts, and printed emails. After the employer sought to enforce a non-compete with the two former employees – which was denied – the employees countered with a lawsuit of their own. The employees sued based on the allegedly improper access of their e-mails. The court ordered the employer to return all e-mails and prohibited their use in the case.
The court's decision was based on its finding that the employer's access of the employee's emails violated the Stored Communications Act (SCA), which prohibits unauthorized access of e-mail correspondence that has been saved or stored once sent (among other things). The employees were awarded money damages and struck a huge blow against all employers. The case sent a message that all employers must be extremely cautious when deciding whether to access an employee's personal e-mails. The employer should have a strong computer-usage policy that employees should not expect that their use of company computers will be considered private, and that the employer has a right to access all web-based e-mail accounts to the extent they are accessed via the employer's computer.
While this was a NY Case, we often rely upon the other jurisdiction who take the lead on innovated case law, interpreting issues that have no court guidance. This is such a case.
For more information on this case, call Mark Law Firm at 908-626-1001 or 973-440-2311, or feel free to send us an email through our " contact us" page.