Privacy Expectations of Email at Work
We live in a technological age where information of any kind can be monitored. Yet, discovery of monitoring only comes to light when a leak of information occurs. With privacy and confidentiality in mind, the question remains if a personal email sent over a work device is confidential, and therefore protected in court, or not. The ambiguous answer is, it depends.
The confidentiality of email privacy at work is a gray area that continues to generate exceptions. The ambiguity in many cases relates to a company’s policy as it pertains to its monitoring and tracking systems. It is also built on a sometimes-false assumption that employees are fully aware of the company’s email policies. The answer as to whether a personal email sent over a company device and/or its networks is considered private or confidential remains unclear. Many companies say no, but the courts are finding this to be an issue without a conclusive answer.
Out in the Open
While an email policy may reside in an employee handbook and in the minds of the policy creators, employees probably do not have the same level of awareness regarding the issue. The discrepancy becomes more complicated because each company’s policy will differ to some extent. Depending on the views of leadership, such policies may be more-or-less strict. For instance, one business might have a policy asking employees to keep the use of private emails to a minimum during work hours while others lock down the use of all outside sites.
Information and Guidance
Often the key to successful compliance is in keeping employees regularly informed of the policies regarding email. This includes timely refreshes for new and current employees with the intent that the use of company email is neither private nor protected. Providing awareness of such policies will continue to grow in importance as the workplace becomes more Millennial and Gen Y-centric. These are generations who grew up with screens yet often do not use email in the same manner as Gen X and Baby Boomer generations. Such generational differences have the potential to complicate the creation and understanding of conclusive policies and will require regular communication that’s crafted for each audience.
No matter the format, all policies should be easy to access. In the case of workplace policies, it’s advantageous to have these in an accessible paper format like a printed employee handbook as well as in a searchable electronic medium such as a company’s intranet. Such transparency offers guard rails for employees regarding what’s acceptable and offers companies a precedent, if needed.
A continually changing business landscape coupled with technological advances and an evolving generational workplace means no policy will remain rock solid forever. It is up to the company to continually evaluate what is needed in the current environment and then convey that to all employees.