Unified Communications Featured Article
Ruling May Offer Some Protection to Employees Who Use Company Computers for Personal Communication
By Patrick Barnard, Senior Web Editor, TMCnet
When an employee uses a company computer, does that mean they leave all their rights to privacy at the door?
Apparently not always: New Jersey's Supreme Court has ruled an employer was wrong in retrieving e-mails between a former employee and her attorney, even though they were sent from a company computer.
The ruling Tuesday in Stengart v. Loving Care Agency may have set a precedent for future cases involving the privacy of personal communications sent from company-owned computers.
However it appears that there are still some specifics to be worked out.
In this particular case, an employee used a company computer to access a Yahoo email account, which she used to send emails to her attorney. The employee had previously brought a lawsuit against the employer, claiming discrimination based on gender, religion and national origin – and sent the emails during her finals days in the office. The company’s IT staff intercepted the emails for the purpose of using them its own defense.
Initially a trial court ruled in favor of the employer – but an appeals court overturned the decision, citing the fact that the interception of the emails violated the employee’s right to client-attorney privilege. In the ruling, Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner wrote that while a company has a right to establish policies governing computer use, and to discipline employees who violate them, a policy that allows an employer to read an employee's attorney-client communications is unenforceable.
What remains unclear is which types of communications would be protected – for now it appears that only client-attorney communications are protected under the ruling, not emails to Mom.
Patrick Barnard is a senior Web editor for TMCnet, covering call and contact center technologies. He also compiles and regularly contributes to TMCnet e-Newsletters in the areas of robotics, IT, M2M, OCS and customer interaction solutions. To read more of Patrick's articles, please visit his columnist page.
Edited by Patrick Barnard