Recent Case Highlights The Importance of Clear Policies When an Employer Monitors Employee Computer Use

   Many employers use software programs to monitor their employee’s use of company computers.  A recent case in Indiana highlights how this can get an employer in trouble if they do so improperly.  In Rene v. G.F. Fishers, Inc., 2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 105202, (September 16, 2011), the company installed software to record all keystrokes made on the employee’s computer.  They did not, however, inform the employee of this software until after the employee had used the computer to access her personal checking account and her personal e-mail.
            Using this software, the employer acquired the employee’s password and her checking account password.  The employer then used these passwords to access and view the employee’s personal e-mails and checking account.  Obviously, an unsavory practice by the employer!
            The employee filed suit making several claims, one of which was a violation of the Stored Communications Act (SCA).  The court refused to dismiss this claim.  It held that intercepting the employee’s personal e-mails was a violation of the SCA, which prohibits “intentionally accessing without authorization a facility through which an electronic communication service is provided” and thereby obtaining access to an “electronic communication while it is in electronic storage.”

Employers must understand that they do not have carte blanche to monitor and access what an employee does on their computer, simply because the computer belongs to the employer.  A well crafted set of policies, with appropriate notice to the employees, however, can protect your business interests without running afoul of the law.

Post by: Richard N. Sheinis