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Is It Legal to Access an Employee’s Email Account?

Is It Legal to Access an Employee’s Email Account?

Have you ever needed to access an employee's email account? Perhaps you were wondering whether this is legal? Read our guide to find out.

11th February 2020
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Have you made an inappropriate joke to a colleague over email? Or perhaps you use your work email for personal matters? If this is you, you may be wondering whether it it legal for your employer to access your email account. Alternatively, maybe you’re an employer wanting to enquire into an employee’s email usage. Read our guide to find out whether it is legal to access an employee’s email account.

Can an Employer Access an Employee’s Emails?

The short answer is yes. As an employee’s email account is the employer’s property, they have the right to access an employee’s email account. Therefore, most businesses should have a code of conduct in place regarding email and computer use.

The employee should understand their obligations and the limitations around its use. For instance, an IT Policy is beneficial in setting out the acceptable use of the internet and email systems in your workplace. You can customise our IT Policy for free. If you are unsure whether your IT Policy permits access of employee emails, we recommend consulting an Employment Lawyer.

Further, an employer’s expectations with regard to email use could be outlined in their employment agreement. You can customise our Employment Agreement for free.

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What Does the Law Say?

In New South Wales, this is governed by the Workplace Surveillance Act 2005 (NSW). This Act holds an employer must give an employee notice if they are monitoring their employee’s use of technology. Employers must give at least 14 days’ notice to employees indicating their intention to use surveillance.

The written notice must state:

  • What kind of surveillance will be undertaken and how it will be carried out
  • When it will commence
  • Whether it will be ongoing
  • Will the surveillance be for a specified time period?

A 2019 study by research firm Gartner found more than 50% of 239 large companies surveyed monitor employee’s technology use including analysing text of emails and social media messages.

Things To Consider

As an employer, you should be aware of the importance of notifying employee’s of your access to their emails. This helps to avoid any issues arising and sets out the employer’s expectations and employee’s obligations.

Here are a few ways you can best implement an IT policy:

  • Communicate the IT policy to employees
  • Consult employees during the development of the policy for their input
  • Outline what is appropriate use of an employee’s email
  • Set boundaries regarding use of an employee’s email for personal matters
  • Communicate improper email usage
  • Explain how emails will be monitored
  • Review and update the IT Policy on a regular basis

Concluding Thoughts

To conclude, employer’s are legally permitted to access their employees email accounts. This is because an employee’s email is property of the employer. Hence, as an employee you should be cautious when using your email. As a rule of thumb, it is always best to keep personal emails seperate to your workplace email.

Don’t know where to start? Contact us on 1800 529 728 to learn more about customising legal documents and obtaining a fixed-fee quote from Australia’s largest lawyer marketplace.

Laura Worrad

Laura is a Legal Intern at Lawpath. She is studying a Bachelor of Laws and a Bachelor of Business Administration at Macquarie University. Laura is interested in Intellectual Property Law and how technology can assist in improving access to justice.