According to the current laws, which are not really up to speed yet, an employer can monitor employee email if he or she has a legitimate business purpose for doing so. There is a belief that, because the employer has an email and computer system for employee use, the computer system (as well as the resulting email and browsing history) is the property of the employer. While this makes sense, some states have enacted 'right to privacy' laws so that companies cannot make this claim against their employees and cannot monitor what they do on the Internet during company time. It then becomes difficult to balance the need to supervise and control employees with the need to make sure that those same employees' rights are not being violated by their employers. There is no clear legal rule as to what is acceptable and what is not in the field of email or Internet monitoring in the workplace, which makes it very difficult for those who are trying to operate a business. Employers are left on their own to try to monitor their employees the best they can while making sure that they do not get too strict and get themselves into trouble with the courts (Boustani 2002).
The best thing that employers can do to protect themselves and keep their employees happy is to create good policies that deal with Internet usage and email, and then stick by them in all circumstances. It is also important that employers monitor their employees only for legitimate reasons, instead of just because they are nosy. If they have a suspicion that an employee is doing something wrong, monitoring them is understandable. Without the suspicion, though, it just seems as though an employer really is prying into an employee's private business. Another thing that the employer needs to do is to be realistic. If employees are in constant fear that they are being watched all of the time, they are not going to perform at the highest level they can because they will be too distracted by the idea of 'big brother' to really focus on their jobs (Monitoring 2002).
Since technology has made it possible to track almost all communication had by employees in the workplace it has raised legal issues as well, and none of that is actually surprising to people who work in all types of fields where computer use is required. What can be done about the monitoring of email and Internet usage, and how can employees keep their privacy at the same time that employers feel as though they are keeping their employees in line? The question becomes even more important when a person stops to consider that society as a whole can be monitored in stores, restaurants, hotels, and virtually anywhere that visual and audio equipment can be hidden.
There really is very little privacy anywhere in society today, and as soon as a person leaves his or her front door there is no longer an expectation of privacy. The problem of first amendment freedoms could potentially extend to everyone on the planet, not just those who work in an office from 8-5. It is important that email laws are developed and that Internet laws are created so that employee privacy and fairness is balanced with the need for employers to keep track of what is going on in their businesses. Society needs laws that fit the times and the situation, and Internet usage is rather unique. Without new laws on the books that protect employers, employees, and the rest of society, there will always be trouble with electronic media and the people who abuse it.
Boustani, Eric Bakri. (2002). An Employer's Approach to Email Policies. http://www.iplawyers.com/CyberCounsel/an_employer.htm.
Monitoring Your Employees' Email, Voicemail, Telephone and Internet Use. (2002). Nolo. http://www.nolo.com/lawcenter/ency/article.cfm/objectID/751CFB9F-5A4B-48FB-A85BC08E2D9862E5/catID/30960BF5-6C25-44B9-992E83CC50D5B17A.
Purdy, LeAnn. Email in the Workplace. (2000). http://pigseye.kennesaw.edu/~1purdy/.