The question of whether you can legitimately access employees work email account is one which we get asked a lot and (like many things employment) the answer is not clear cut!
Firstly, you may have a policy or contractual clause that says something to the effect of ‘we reserve the right to examine systems and data recorded on those systems’ however this does not automatically mean you can access an individuals email account. It is unreasonable not to expect that employees will send the odd personal email and in the recent Barbulescu decision the European Courts of Human Rights underlined this by stating that employers ‘should not reduce private social life in the workplace to zero’. It is the likely existence of these emails that result in the problem as employees have a right to have their private communication remain private even if the emails are sent from a work system.
So, the answer very much depends on why you need to access the emails. You should try and avoid doing so as much as possible. Even if you feel you have no choice but to access messages you should avoid reading the content of private messages. Checking recipient, sender and subject line should be enough to locate what you need. Here are a few top tips to help you:
- Firstly if you need to access the emails ensure you have a legitimate and urgent business reason for doing so.
- Identify if there is another way to get the information that you need, could you ask the sender to forward the email to you?
- If someone is going to be away from the office and you think there could be information being sent to their emails ask them to put on an out of office with an alternative email address on or arrange for forwarding of emails.
- Be open and honest about accessing the email.
- Encourage balance and be clear about the use of personal email at work. Some is expected but ensure employees are clear that this should be minimal.
If you have any questions about this or any other HR topic please contact us on 01325 288299 (option 2)