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Can my employer look at my e mails?

Unfortunately for employees in California, there is very little protection against employer searches of your office computer. We have found it standard practice for employers to open computers, seize hard-drives and basically print everything they can. This is especially true when an employee is also a whistle blower and the company is intent on finding a reason to terminate them.

The recent case of City of Ontario vs. Quon is instructive.  Text messages were sent on a device provided by the City. As this was a public employer, the employee challenged the search on the basis of the US Constitution restriction on warrantless searches. The US Supreme Court held that a government agency can search files of its employees without a warrant where the search is for wrok-related misconduct. The court also asked if the measures used were reasonably relted to the search objectives and not excessively intrusive.

This is also the case with California-based private employers. As stated by the Privacy Right Clearinghouse, new technological make it possible for employers to monitor many aspect of their workers’ jobs, especially on telephones and computer terminations, through electronic and voice mail using the internet.

To end on a more positive note, the courts are becoming increasingly protective of employee rights under the National Labor Relations Board Act. Section 7 of this law prohibits employers from interfering with the rights of workers to communicate with each other regarding working conditions. We are not yet aware of a case which has been brought based on communications based on employer-owned computers or sites, but that case is probably not far out. Be interesting to see how that dispute resolves.

if you are a whistle blower, be aware that your documents can be seized by the employer using the internet. Recent California case law has also established that attorney-client documents are compromised and discoverable!  Not only is the written documentation discoverable, but it could support a claim by the employer that personal work was being done on the company dime. Not a good place to be if you are a whistle blower! Talk to us at Los Angeles Employment attorney.