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How Private is Your Work Email?

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It is common for employees to use their work email to send personal emails. This use raises issues of personal privacy when using your work email system.

Work email privacy was debated in federal court recently when a man was terminated by his employer. He used his corporate email address and an associated Google account for both business and personal matters. His wife had her own email address and Google account, connected to Google Drive, and she used these to share certain documents with her husband’s corporate email account. Once the husband was fired, Legacy Global Sports had access, via the husband’s corporate email address, to the wife’s shared Google Drive documents. The wife sued Legacy’s new CEO claiming he violated the federal Stored Communications Act.

Stored Communications Act (SCA)

The SCA is a criminal statute that also provides for a civil action for money damages. It covers both access without authorization, as well as access that exceeds the approved authorization for the account. The wife conceded that she shared access with the corporate account and therefore lacks any claim that the new CEO was violating the law when observing her postings.

Invasion of Privacy

Another part of the wife’s lawsuit accused the new CEO of invading her privacy by accessing certain files that she had shared with her husband’s corporate Google account. The claim for invasion of privacy was based upon intrusion on mental solitude or seclusion. For such a lawsuit to prevail, the intrusion has to be offensive and beyond the limits of decency. In considering whether the account was secret, the court looked at the reasonable expectation of privacy and concluded that the privacy rights of the wife are diminished in the workplace.

Work Email Accounts

Even when using an employer-provided account, employees can retain some expectation of privacy in their files or messages, such as where the employer condones personal use or the files are marked as “personal and confidential.” Here the court concluded the wife did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy and the documents were not so secret that access to them would constitute an invasion of privacy. For more details read Amy St. Pierre v. Stephen J. Griffin, United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire, Order dated September 30, 2021, Case No. 1:20-cv-01173-PB.

If you have an employment-related issue, you need an experienced NH attorney- Douglas, Leonard & Garvey, P.C. Please call one of our New Hampshire employment attorneys at (603) 288-1403 or fill out our online contact form.