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Handbook Policy Supports Employer’s Viewing of Employee’s “Private” E-mail

  Cases involving employers viewing of employee “private” e-mails are popping up more and more frequently.  The latest case from the Georgia Court of Appeals on the subject shows the importance of having a policy that allows the employer to monitor computer usage by employees.
            In Sitton v. Print Direction, Inc. (PDI), 2011 Ga. App. LEXIS 849 (September 28, 2011), the CEO of PDI “caught wind” that Sitton was operating a side business that competed with his employer, PDI.  The CEO entered Sitton’s office when he was not there, and moved the computer mouse.  An e-mail appeared on the computer screen, which the CEO then printed. The e-mail was later used as incriminating evidence to show that Sitton had violated his duty of loyalty to PDI by diverting business opportunities to his own business.
            Among other claims, Sitton alleged that the CEO’s actions constituted computer theft, computer trespass and computer invasion of privacy.  These claims were dismissed by the court, partially based on PDI’s computer usage policy.  The policy stated, in part, that employees should not regard “electronic mail left on or transmitted over these systems” as “private or confidential.”  The policy also stated that “PDI will . . . inspect the contents of computers, voice mail or electronic mail in the course of an investigation triggered by indications of unacceptable behavior.”
            Many cases involving improper computer usage by employees turn on the computer usage policies of the employer.  As an employer, adequate policies in this area are almost imperative if you are to monitor employees computer usage, especially use of e-mail and the internet.  Please contact us if you need information on whether your current policies provide adequate protection.
Post by: Richard N. Sheinis