Can employers read private emails?

Employees frequently use work email systems for private emails. Occasionally these emails may be relevant to disciplinary or other processes.

Can the employer lawfully read private emails or use them in any formal process?

The Human Rights Act protects employees’ rights to private life and this includes personal emails even if they are sent or received on the employer’s systems. This affects lawfulness in different ways and could mean that emails that are relied upon turn out to be inadmissible.

So what can an employer do to make sure they are entitled to access and use these emails?

An employee can only rely on the right to private life if they have an expectation that emails will be private.

So the employer must adopt an email, internet and electronic communication policy that makes it clear that there can be no expectation of privacy.

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