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Be Careful Who You E-mail on Your Employer’s Computer

Anthony Davis wrote an article in the New York Law Journal on November 4th summarizing the state of the law with regard to privacy matters when one is using his work computer to send personal e-mails.

A New York decision, Scott v. Beth Israel Medical Center Inc., 2007 WL 3053351 (N.Y. Sup. Oct. 17, 2007), held that if you send e-mails to your attorney, even using your personal e-mail account like gmail or aol.com, on your employer’s computer, you may have waived your right to invoke your “attorney-client privilege” with regard to that e-mail. If the employer had a privacy policy in place, that employee’s were notified of, that the employer had the right to access any information an employee transmits using the employer’s computer.

The Scott court also held that even if the attorney had a standard notice at the bottom of each e-mail that the contents of the e-mail were to be private between the attorney and the client, that such notice is ineffective to save the communication from the client’s constructive waiver of the privilege resulting from the client’s decision to use his office computer to communicate with his attorney. Thus, the court suggested that attorneys should advise their clients that they should not use their office computers for communications between them, especially if the attorney feels that there is some risk that the employer might have a motivation to look into the employee’s personal e-mails.

On the other hand, a New Jersey court, in Stengart v. Loving Care Agency Inc., 973 A.2d 390 (N.J. Super. A.D. July 29, 2009), came to the opposite conclusion. In that case, the court held that even an employer’s e-mail policy granting it access to all employees’ e-mails on their computers, will not be valid to waive the employee’s attorney-client privilege. The employer-defendant in that case has appealed that case to the New Jersey Supreme Court, which just heard arguments on the case. When that court comes to a decision in the matter, at least New Jersey will have come up with a definitive conclusion on the matter.

For the time being, in New Jersey, and especially in New York, you should not send any e-mails, using one’s work computer, that you would like to keep private. This is especially true if you are writing your attorney regarding a case against the employer on whose computer you are sending the e-mail.

It is better to either wait until you have access to your home computer after work to send private e-mails, or to use a cell phone, iPhone, or (privately owned) Blackberry if you have to send private e-mail during business hours.

As always, if you need help with any kind of personal injury, contract, or other litigation, you can call our office 24/7 at 800-344-6431 or send us an e-mail (not necessarily on your boss’ computer!)

Picture courtesy of The Office Rat.

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