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Unified Communications Featured Article

March 31, 2010

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

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