LL&D Law
Communicating With An Attorney From Work

by Courtney Powell
11/22/2011 12:38:00 PM
       You should always be extremely cautious in communicating with an attorney through any e-mail account to which any others may or could have access. Several factors affect whether an employer can get access to employee e-mail accounts, including attorney-client communications. Courts generally look at four factors in deciding whether attorney-client communications through an employer’s computer are protected from disclosure. 

     The first place to look in deciding your rights regarding e-mail at work is whether the employer has an explicit policy relating to use of computers provided by the employer. Courts examine whether the employer has a policy banning personal or other uses of employer-provided computers. Second, courts examine whether the company monitors the general use of employee computers, and/or e-mail. Third, courts ask whether others in the company have access to the computer or e-mail. For instance, is the computer shared with others, or do others regularly borrow it? Do others know your password? Are passwords confidential? Finally, courts examine whether the employee is aware of these use and monitoring policies. 

      Another issue is whether the employee is using his or her employer-based e-mail address, or a separate web-based address, such as hot mail. Many employees believe if they use a separate e-mail address, their communications are protected, even if they occur at work, on an employer-provided computer. And in some instances, this does make a difference.  If the employer’s policy is not clear on this issue, a court might find the employee had a reasonable expectation of privacy.  However, this area of law is not clear, thus caution is advised.

     Finally, remember that deleting e-mail does not mean it is truly gone. Also remember that metadata, which is information embedded in communications and transferred along with documents, may also be present.

     The bottom line is that caution is advisable in communicating through e-mail, regardless of what the employer’s policy appears to be.    



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