Your Employee’s Work email expectation of privacy – New Supreme Court Decision adds some clarity.

The latest Supreme Court ruling help that a California police department’s review of sexually charged text messages sent by the officer to his wife and to his mistress from his employer-issued pager, did not constitute an invasion of the employee’s privacy. This overturned a previous ruling by the 9th Circuit. (Link to the full opinion in City of Ontario v. Quon).
As a business owner, you should take note that the Supreme Court’s decision was largely motivated by concept that the police department’s review of the messages was in line with its policy and was conducted for a valid business reason. Also, that the implications of the decision on the employees texts in this case could also be seen to apply to the work email expectation of privacy for the average employee.
The officer had exceeded the allotted monthly number of messaged approved for his text pager and, according with policy, the texts were then reviewed by his employer to determine the amount the officer would need to pay for non-work-related messages.
This court decision is the first in the area of an employer’s right to monitor the electronic communications of its employees sent and received during working time or with devices issued as part of the job.
As a business owner, it’s important to understand that:
  1. The decision does not take away the right to privacy in all cases.
  2. You should consider having a written policy for communication review policies and procedures for your company to avoid getting out of sync with your employees work email expectation of privacy (or texts, or phone calls).
  3. Any search of employee communications should not go beyond what is necessary to achieve a legitimate business purpose. In this case, reviewing the records to determine the personal overuse of the texts.
 Modern Business Associates frequently deals with privacy issues.  As a Professional Payroll and HR outsource organization, our clients rely on us to help them effectively deal with these kinds of topics.