Workplace Confidentiality (Or Lack Thereof)

A recent California Court of Appeals case determined that an email sent by an attorney to his client’s work email address was not privileged like typical private communication between an attorney and a client would be.  The decision states in part:

[T]he 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.

The non-lawyer readers of this site probably care little about the attorney client privilege issue, but I would caution you to think again about the main issue brought up by this case: confidentiality within the workplace.

Many work places, while recognizing the prevalence of internet usage, have what can be best described as a “fair use” policy for internet usage.  Depending on the policy at your job, you may be allowed to use the internet sparingly for non-job related activities so long as it does not impact your productivity.  Of course, no porn on the job, but you may be able to check FaceBook occasionally and skim through the email forwards sent by your mother in law without violating company policy.

But, do you have any privacy when it comes to your private use of your employers internet access, server, company provided email, company provided computer equipment? It depends on your employer’s specific policies or lack thereof, the state of the law in your jurisdiction, and the type of information you are expecting privacy over — That’s the lawyer in me talking and not wanting to give an entirely straight answer.

An unequivocal, “NO!” would probably suffice.  The law is too unsettled and generally against you.  If you are doing anything at work you do not want your employer to become aware of, save it for at home or the coffee shop wi-fi.