When your staff take holidays you might be worried that e-mail messages which require answers are sat in their inbox. Can you just check the account or must you obtain their permission first?
Contrary to popular belief, even though employers are providing and paying for the employee’s work e-mail account, an employer has no automatic right to search in it. That’s because, as far as the law is concerned, employees have the right to a reasonable expectation of privacy in the workplace. That includes what goes in and out of their work e-mail account.
Employers do however have a right under the Telecommunications (Lawful Business Practice) (Interception of Communications) Regulations 2000 (LBPR) to intercept, record and monitor business-related e-mails without first obtaining employee consent. One such occasion is to “check messages in an employee’s absence that appear to be business-related” . When it comes to e-mails, they “must appear in their unopened state to be business-related” ; the regulations do not grant unrestricted access rights. This applies even if work e-mail systems prohibit them from being used to send/receive personal communications.
The best approach is to ensure that this right is drawn to employees’ attention in either the employment contract or in a publicised internet use policy.