So, the Dean of Harvard College (the undergraduate part of Harvard University) resigned after it was found out that she ordered a perusal of the resident deans’ emails. Obviously the resident deans’ were outraged when they found out that their email subjects and recipient lists were tracked to see who had leaked the information about the Harvard cheating scandal. Politically, the Dean had to step down, but did she have to legally? The answer in this case is emphatically no.
As to the straight law on the subject. Nothing in Federal or Maryland law bars an employer from reading any or every email that you send under your work account. To be VERY clear: you have NO PRIVACY on your work email account.
Similarly, your employer can read ALL NETWORK TRAFFIC that is sent across its network, whether it be your own private email, or websites visited. What this means is that your employer can look at everything you looked at, and will have access to networked passwords if they were sent unencrypted. Your use of the employer’s network can subject you to discipline or discharge. It also means that your employer can use that information how it sees fit.
What does that mean to you if you are contacting your attorney by email. My advice has been for several years to NEVER email me from a work email address, whether you are at home or at work, or from your personal account if you are using a work computer or using your employer’s network, even if with your personal cellphone.
To go a little more in-depth with cellphones, if your employer has an open WiFi network, and you connect your cellphone to it (for faster speeds, to avoid data usage on your plan, etc.) anything that cellphone does becomes data on the network, and can be read. So if you send me an email or read an email from me, from your cellphone, while you are at work and using the employer’s WiFi network that communication can be read. There is no expectation of privacy in this situation. It also means that there is no attorney-client privilege.
Many of my clients are maintaining Workers’ Compensation claims as a result of a work injury with their current employer. I communicate with my clients by email a lot, and everyone is warned to not do the above. So, when I am asked of the ramifications of resigning to the Workers’ Compensation claim, if it is sent over the employer’s network, the employer will not only know my answer, but that you are contemplating resignation. Ponder those implications.
Please, be smart. Keep your personal life separate from your work life.