» Do your firm’s managers spy on employees?

Do your firm’s managers spy on employees?

August 6, 2009 by Sam Narisi
Posted in: In this week's e-newsletter, Latest News & Views, Regulations & Compliance

Many employers monitor employees’ e-mail use to prevent data leaks, harassment and other legal problems. In one recent case, a manager went a step further, putting his company on the hook for a violation of privacy.

An employee was involved in a legal battle with her former employer after she was terminated. She filed three discrimination and harassment claims against the company.

At the same time, the company took her to court, alleging breach of contract, misappropriation of trade secrets and other claims. During the trial, the woman’s former boss, the company president, presented as evidence e-mails sent and received by her personal e-mail account.

He admitted to stealing the woman’s password and reading the e-mails for the purpose of “monitoring and documenting her personal business activity.”

security-breachAfter she found out he was spying on her, the woman sued the president and the company for violating the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.

The company argued it couldn’t be held liable because it didn’t know about or authorize the snooping. But the court disagreed. Since the boss was acting to “further the interests” of his employer, the company was on the hook.

The case went to a jury, and the woman was awarded a total of $400,000 from the company and its president.

Watch privacy rights

This case provides a stern warning to managers who suspect an employee of wrongdoing. While its OK to monitor an employee’s use of the company’s e-mail system, courts have drawn the line at accessing info stored by a third party.

Supervisors need to understand what actions do or don’t violate employees’ privacy rights — and that both they and the company can get in deep trouble when they snoop where they shouldn’t.

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4 Responses to “Do your firm’s managers spy on employees?”

  1. Bubba Boss Says:

    Please define difference between “monitoring” & “accessing”.
    So was this a case where the manager accessed emails stored by a third party?
    Again, what’s the difference between “monitoring” & “accessing”?

  2. printer cartridge supplies Says:

    I guess the word ” spy” is not the right term whenever managers supervises and monitor their employees.

  3. Privacy is overrated Says:

    This article demonstrates a problem with privacy laws. The employee claims her privacy rights were violated because her boss was reading her email. However, I’m sure he was not just reading it for a good time. He suspected she was leaking company sensitive information, obviously trying to hide it by using her personal email account rather than a company email account. It appears he was right. So where does the company’s right to protecting its information fit into this equation? Instead of her being punished for breach of contract and misappropriation of trade secrets, she gets $400,000. Where is the justice in that? There can be no justice when privacy laws are absolute.

  4. Jon Rohr Says:

    What this article fails to expound upon is if the “personal” email account was accessed by the employee using the company’s computers & network while she was employed by them.

    That equipment is not her personal property and there is no reasonable expectation of privacy while using it. Anything that might be logged while “monitoring” their own kit is a perfectly legal procedure.

    However, as is implied by the wording of this article – her boss seems to have taken information gathered during that monitoring and then used it to subsequently access a system owned by a third party. THAT is where he crossed the line. By using a password that might have been captured from their own system to access another system – her boss fraudulently accessed that system – pretending to be her.

    That is a Crime. ANYONE accessing any computer system and masquerading as another person is committing the crime of fraud – as well as a number of hacking-related statutes.

    Her boss may have FELT that he needed to act in order to ascertain if she had stolen trade-secrets, etc.. However by taking action he became a vigilante. The only proper course of action was to divulge any internal logs to Law Enforcement and to issue Cease & Desist letters through their own attourneys.

    Privacy IS a legal RIGHT in the USA. It may not have been included in the original draft of the constitution explicetly however it was established through the use of the court systems decades ago. The erosion of a citizen’s Rights in order to secure the interests of Corporations flirts with Facism.

    The article fails to mention if any actual dammage was rendered TO the offending company in addition to that rendered BY them.



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