Can my employer read my emails?

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Question:

My coworker was recently fired for sending pornographic email messages to women in the office using the company's email system. I'm glad he's gone, but now the company says that it's going to monitor all of our email messages to make sure that we don't violate the company's policy against harassment. Can they do this?

Answer:

Although you may feel that your privacy is being invaded when your employer reads email messages, employers are increasingly being sued by employees for harassment that occurred via email and the Internet. The truth is that many employers monitor email and Internet use, and courts have almost uniformly upheld their right to do so.

If a company assures workers that their email messages will remain private and takes steps to protect the privacy of email (by providing a system that allows messages to be designated "confidential" or creating private passwords known only to the employee, for example), a worker might have a legitimate gripe about company monitoring.

However, it sounds like your employer has been upfront about its plans to read email and hasn't given you any reason to believe that your messages are private. Therefore, you shouldn't put anything in an email on the company system that you wouldn't want your boss to read.To learn more about your right to privacy in the workplace, check out Your Rights in the Workplace, by Barbara Kate Repa (Nolo).

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