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Employees Sometimes Have an Expectation of Privacy When Using Company Computers

Employees Sometimes Have an Expectation of Privacy When Using Company Computers
04 Apr 2010 Uncategorized

Employees Sometimes Have an Expectation of Privacy When Using Company Computers

Most New Jersey employers have long operated under the belief that employees have no expectation of privacy in the workplace when using company computers; and, in fact, the employer has the right to review any electronic information contained and/or maintained on work computers.  Recently, however, in Stengart v. Loving Care Agency, Inc., the New Jersey Supreme Court created an exception to the “no expectation of privacy” rule holding an employee who exchanges email communication with her attorney through a personal internet based email account using a work computer is privileged attorney–client communication and may not be monitored and/or retrieved.

The Stengart decision stresses the importance of an employer’s need to review and update its policies periodically.  The Supreme Court found the company’s policy did not warn employees that personal emails from personal accounts having personal passwords may be stored on a hard drive and reviewed by the company.  Although this case involved attorney-client communications, the Court may have opened the door for further litigation in holding: 1) the employee had a subjective expectation of privacy because she used a personal password protected email account (not the Company’s account); 2) the employee had an objectively reasonable expectation of privacy because the Handbook did not address the use of personal email accounts and allowed personal use; and 3) the emails were not illegal or inappropriate such as to potentially cause harm to the company.

If you have any questions relating to your Company’s electronic communication policy, please contact Robert A. Tandy, Esq. at (201) 474-7103.

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