Email is a huge part of our world, our workplace and our private lives. Most people use different accounts: work accounts and personal accounts — all of which are accessible via the internet. Because of this, employees can face unintended consequences. Examples include termination for misusing work accounts, or accessing private accounts through their employer’s servers. Here are some tips to help you avoid problems.
1. Use work email for only work purposes.
The safest practice for protecting yourself against negative consequences is to limit your use of personal email at work to only work related emails. Send all other internet correspondence from a personal account outside of work. You would not think about mixing your personal money with your employer’s funds. The same thought process applies when using your employer’s accounts, data and servers.
2. Imagine your boss is looking over your shoulder.
Most courts have held that employers have the right to monitor what employees do on the employer’s computer systems and equipment. The IT department can monitor emails sent from the employer’s email system, as well as emails sent from your personal account when it is sent through a company computer or using company Wi-Fi. Here are some topics that should not be sent through work emails: objectionable language, pornography, political solicitations, offensive or off-color jokes, chain mail, and emails related to your personal business.
3. Send personal, sensitive emails from your own device.
If you have to send a personal message while you’re at work, it’s safest to do so via your smart phone (as long as that phone is not using the office Wi-Fi). One option is to set up a personal hot spot, which turns your mobile device into a wireless access point. Personal data rates apply. Also make sure to turn your hotspot off when you are finished.
4. Assume everything sent from your employer’s computer system could be used against you.
Termination is a possible consequence for violations of workplace email policy. Other consequences could be a formal reprimand, probation, a forced retraining, or perhaps even a law suit. Legal consequences can include criminal charges. Deleting emails from your account does not ensure that they are gone, since Internet servers store copies of emails sent through their channels. They could be subject to criminal and/or civil discovery requests. Even if you cannot produce them anymore, the Internet hosting site would be able to produce them if subpoenaed by a court.
5. Avoid emailing company documents to your personal email.
Many employers allow employees to work remotely. Maybe, you have to finish up a project from home, but you need access documents on your employer’s internal server and you cannot log in from home. What do you do? It may seem like a great idea to email a copy of the documents to your personal email account, which you can access from home. The problem with this plan is that those documents are now more susceptible to being hacked, or it could give your employer the impression that you are stealing trade secrets.
6. Beware, you may give up your right to privacy by using your employer’s network.
In Sitton v. Print Direction, Inc., an employee was terminated after he was caught working for a competing company owned by his wife while on the clock for his employer. The employee secretly brought his own laptop to work to conduct business for the competitor. His employer read an email he sent revealing the conflict of interest and the court ruled for the employer, finding that the employer had a right to read the emails because they were sent using the company’s network.
7. Check and send personal emails on breaks.
Employers want employees focused on their work responsibilities, so make sure to use personal email at lunch, or while on coffee breaks. It’s best to use your personal device, and your own data plan.
8. Beware of “bring your own device” policies, you might be giving your employer the right to wipe all your stored data.
Employers may allow you to access their servers with your personal devices. They may require you to agree to a “bring your own” device policy that typically reserves the employer’s right to monitor the employee’s activities on the device and to remote wipe the device if there is a security risk (like, if the device is lost or stolen, or if the employee is terminated). By agreeing to this type of policy you waive your right to privacy concerning your device. Also, you run the risk of having your cell phone if you leave the company for any reason
9. Personal cell phones or devices could be seized as part of discovery in a lawsuit involving your employer.
If you use your own device for work and your employer gets sued, the other side may subpoena records from your device and you may be required to turn it over for discovery.
10. Again, Send work related emails through work email accounts.
Former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Carter are being investigated for sending potentially classified emails through their person email accounts instead of government email accounts, violating policy and perhaps creating security risks. These stories show how easy it is to co-mingle emails. While it is not typical for comingling to result in a national news story, it could get you fired. Be aware of the risks and use good judgment when sending emails from work or using your employer’s network.
For further questions, reach out to PCW Law Firm.