The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides citizens with protections against unreasonable searches and seizures, and gives them the right to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects. While this may seem to confer privacy rights to employees, the Amendment was intended to protect citizens from government intrusions and does little to protect employees’ right to privacy. As a result, Texas employers will often search an employee’s email and make an employment decision based on information that an employee thought was private.
Courts have held that employees do not retain an expectation of privacy in specific work areas. As such, employers often maintain the power to search through employee’s work areas — this includes their office, desk, or even lockers and company cars in certain instances. In most cases, employees do not have a right to privacy in their work email or any other information contained on an employer-owned computer server. If an employer provides the employee with an email address or computer, the employer is allowed to monitor the contents of the email account or computer.
While it may seem as though employers have free reign over searching an employee’s email, there are certain instances where employees can expect email privacy. One situation where this may be the case is when there is a collective bargaining agreement or another contract that indicates that the employer is not permitted to search through work emails and computer servers.
What about Personal Email Accounts Accessed on a Work Computer?
Another issue that frequently arises is whether employers can look at their employee’s personal email. The rules regarding personal email are not as clear as work email because there are many variables in these cases, including the nature of the position, what is stated in the employee handbook, and whether the computer is for the sole use of a single employee. In many cases, employer handbooks state an employer retains the right to monitor any activity that occurs on a company server or phone. This would include an employee’s personal email. Courts have varied in their response to the validity of these clauses. In some instances, if an employee uses their personal email for work-related activities, they may give up their expectation of privacy in that email account. However, in other cases, employees’ personal emails are protected even if it is accessed through a work server. These cases are often complicated and very fact-specific. If an employee feels their personal email has been improperly monitored or viewed, you should contact a Texas employment law attorney, especially if adverse action was taken against the employee based on what an employer discovered.
Has Your Texas Employer Violated Your Privacy?
If you believe your employer has violated your right to privacy or another important workplace right, you should contact our attorneys at Rob Wiley, P.C. at 214-528-6500 to schedule an initial consultation.