E-mail is not private in the workplace. Employers own the company e-mail system and therefore are covered under law to monitoring rights. Employees should be aware that any e-mail they send or receive through their company e-mail account can be read by their employer. It is important for employees to understand that private e-mail accounts can also be monitored by employers.
Company Email System
Employers give employees the right to use the company's electronic mail system for work-related activities. Since the email system is technically on loan to an employee, the employer reserves the right to read any e-mail that is sent through its e-mail system.
Employee's who access their web-based or private e-mail accounts such as AOL, Yahoo or Gmail from an employer's computer are also subject to having their e-mail viewed by their employer. The web browser that the employee uses to access his private e-mail is owned by the company; therefore, any web page that is viewed on that browser can be seen by the employer. The employer provides the employee with Internet access for business purposes. The Internet is not meant for personal use. Employees can violate their employer's Internet use rules by accessing a personal e-mail account through the Internet.
E-mail Marked "Private"
E-mail that is marked "private" is not really private. Many e-mail systems allow users to mark e-mails as "private" through an e-mail software drop-down menu. This is just to signal to the person receiving the email that the content is private. No e-mail sent through an employer's e-mail system is private because the employer owns the network.
There are companies who "encrypt" or scramble e-mail messages. This is when the characters in the body of an e-mail are scrambled between the sender and the receiver in order to protect the email from being intercepted and read by a third party. Employers are allowed to un-encrypt and read e-mail messages since they own the email system.
Employee's can delete e-mail from an inbox, but the email is never really deleted. E-mail can sit on the main server indefinitely; therefore it can always be read by the employer.
There have been cases where employees have sued their employers for reading their e-mail. In most cases, the courts have sided with the employer. There has been leniency in cases where e-mail that is sent between an attorney and his client is subject to attorney-client privileges. All other cases regarding e-mail privacy rights have been ruled in favour of the employer.