Everyone knows not to muck around with personal emails on your work computer … right?
I mean, we all know, or should know, that there's a better then even chance some HR or computer wizard in the sky is watching you and reading what you write.
But wait. What if you're writing an email from work to your own attorney? That's supposed to be confidential and has to be okay, right?
Well, think again.
Recently the Third District Court of Appeal in California decided that an email sent by an employee to their lawyer is not privileged and that it can be perfectly legal for the boss-man to read and react to the missive.
The case began when Gina Holmes, an employee at Petrovich Development Company in Sacramento, was feeling harassed at work while arranging for a leave of absence after becoming pregnant. At one point, she emailed an attorney from her work computer to get a referral for a labor law expert.
“I am officially working in a hostile environment,” she wrote, according to the appeals court decision, “I feel I need to find out what rights, if any, and what options I have.”
About a year later, Holmes filed a lawsuit against her employer and eventually lost. But she appealed, claiming, among other things, that the court messed up by allowing the other side to enter emails that she had written from work to her lawyer as evidence that she sued the company at the behest of her attorney and had not suffered emotional damage.
Once again, however, Holmes lost.
The court decided that since Holmes had read and understood the company email policy, which dictated that email was only for work purposes and that using it for personal reasons was prohibited, and that she was told that she had no right to privacy using a work computer, the emails to her lawyer were not privileged.
The emails, wrote appeals Judge Arthur G. Scotland, “were akin to consulting her lawyer in her employer's conference room, in a loud voice, with the door open, so that any reasonable person would expect … [to] be overheard.”
In the end, this serves as a reminder to us all: Don't email anybody from work, even your lawyer, unless you want the man who signs your paychecks to read all about it.
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