E-Mail Privacy

Know Your Rights

Who's reading your e-mail?

You might want to think twice before sending your next personal or union-related e-mail from work.

An employer is allowed to read your e-mail, make no mistake about it. Federal and state laws permit public employers to monitor, read or otherwise intercept messages, and several court cases have established that employees do not have a legally protected right to privacy in workplace e-mail messages. Therefore, it never hurts to consider the content before saving or sending your message.

The right to use that information against you, though, is another matter.

In general, the employer's e-mail system is considered the employer's "property," and an employer has the right to regulate use of its property. Employers usually do this by adopting e-mail policies, often without input from employees.

The policy becomes negotiable if it relates to any mandatory subjects of bargaining, such as when a violation of the policy can be used as grounds for discipline or evaluations. CSEA chapters can negotiate protections covering employee use of e-mail into the contract.

The bottom line? You should exercise reasonable discretion when using your workplace e-mail system, and be aware that use of profanity or personal criticism could increase your employer's desire to regulate e-mail by employees.

The union has rights, too
CSEA also has the right to use the e-mail system to communicate with you, subject to "reasonable regulation." However, an employer cannot restrict the content of the union's e-mail unless it presents a considerable threat to the peaceful operation of the workplace.

Know your e-mail rights

The courts have ruled there is no constitutional right to privacy when it comes to e-mail messages in the workplace.
Recognize that any message you send through your workplace e-mail system can be read by the employer.
Chapter members can negotiate protections regarding privacy, discipline and other concerns into the contract.
Has the district violated your rights?
If you feel the district has violated your rights, contact a union steward, chapter officer, or CSEA labor relations representative. You may be able to file a grievance or pursue civil action.