Privacy at Work: Your Boss May Be Reading Your Email and Texts

Cynthia Dermody

text messagingThe Supreme Court's recent ruling in favor of a California police chief who snooped at his employees' private text messages is EXACTLY why I'm fanatically cautious about the types of emails I send and receive at work.

That and that "oops" email I sent about 10 years ago that was misdirected to the gossipee rather than the co-gossiper for which it was intended. Tres embarrassment.

My boss would be bored to tears if she ever decided to read my email or text messages today. She'd find online order confirmations, birthday party RSVPs, and mindless chatter about goings-on at my dance class involving and nothing juicy like sexually explicit comments as in the case of Quon vs. Ontario, California.

The nation's highest court ruled that Chief Lloyd Scharf did not violate the 4th Amendment (unreasonable search) in 2002 when he decided to read some of his officers' private text messages. He had suspected that a lot of them were using their agency-distributed pagers for personal messages and not work-related matters, and thus felt this type of random "search" was warranted.

Quon, a sergeant, was told he could use the pager for personal emails as long as he paid for the calls. But Scharf apparently didn't feel the content and volume of those personal emails were appropriate for a police officer. According to records, Quon had sent or received 456 messages -- some to an ex-wife and some to a girlfriend -- but only 57 were work-related.

The Court agreed that Scharf read Quon's texts for a legitimate work-related purpose, in what some critics of the ruling say now shifts rights away from employees. For now, this precedent-setting ruling applies to just state and federal workplaces, like government offices and law enforcement. But these opinions often influence outcomes in private cases, as well.

Here are some of my rules about private emails at work:

1. Don't use swear words.

2. Never discuss politics or reveal ideological leanings.

3. No sexting. (Even from a personal account. Yuck.)

4. Always check who you're sending to (not replying all, not sending to the person you're talking about).

What are your rules? What would your boss discover about you if he was allowed to search your email?


Image via gcbb/Flickr

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