Court Rules Company Has Right to Employee E-mail

Last Updated Jan 23, 2011 11:50 PM EST

Suppose one of your employees is preparing to sue your company. Do you have a right to read her e-mail, even if it includes privileged messages with the employee's lawyer? If you said "yes," then you're in good company: California agrees with you.

The bottom line is that e-mail between an employee and his or her attorney is not privileged and confidential if the exchange takes place on a work e-mail account. That's the word from the Sacramento Third Appellate District court. The case featured a secretary who claimed that her employer became "hostile" when she became pregnant shortly after being hired. The company used her own e-mails to show that she did not suffer emotional distress.

The messages were admissible because work e-mail is not considered private or confidential. Said the court:

"E-mails sent via company computer under the circumstances of this case were akin to consulting her lawyer in her employer's conference room, in a loud voice, with the door open, so that any reasonable person would expect that their discussion of her complaints about her employer would be overheard."
You can read the entire opinion in PDF format.

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