Employees should not assume privacy when they send written communications through electronic devices owned by their employer. A recent decision by the Third District Court of Appeal in California ruled that employees' e-mails sent to an attorney may not even be privileged.
The appeals court ruled that an employee of Petrovich Development Company in Sacramento should not have had an expectation of privacy when she sent e-mails to her attorney about what she felt was a hostile work environment at her place of employment.
According to LA Weekly, the appeals court said that since the employee had read and understood her employer's e-mail policy that said that work e-mail should only be used for work and not for personal purposes, the attorney e-mails were not privileged. Since her employer said that she had no right to privacy on her work computer, the e-mails she sent to her lawyer could be read by her employer and used against her in court.
The woman claimed that she was harassed as she prepared to take a leave of absence from work after becoming pregnant. She sent an e-mail to an attorney about the situation. Her employer's attorneys used the e-mails in their case against her, arguing that she had sued because she was persuaded to by her attorney and not because she really suffered emotional damage. The former employee lost her case. On appeal, she claimed that the e-mails should be considered privileged communication, but the appeals court disagreed.