Dilemma of the Month: Snooping on Employee Email

by Evil HR Lady on November 2, 2017

I have an employee who hasn’t been performing well. She always has an excuse. Last week, she was out sick again and I needed a report that I know she’d received from a client. I tried to call her, but she didn’t answer. So, I asked IT if I could get the report from her email, and they gave me access to her inbox. I found the report, but curiosity overcame me, and I opened a few other emails with subject lines that caught my eye. Turns out that my employee has been doing a lot of non-work related things at work. I feel totally guilty — I snooped. Is this legal? Is it moral? What do I do with this information?

To read the answer, click here: Dilemma of the Month: Snooping on Employee Email

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Maria Rose November 2, 2017 at 4:32 pm

That was an excellent response to handle this situation, which I am quite sure will result in that specific employee going all hypereactive to being caught using company email to doing non-work related things. (My guess, working at another area of income). Being that this employee’s work performance is not to standards required, that schdeuled meeting should involved a written statement with review of currnet performance and timeline of expected performance upgrade to job expectations.
This was another example of scamming by employees for pay by non-performance of job requirements. Unfortunately it makes things harder for everyone and makes monitoring performance mandatory.

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Goober November 2, 2017 at 5:54 pm

Any company that does not have a notice in their employee manual about the company reserving the right to monitor all computer use on company computers really need to have a sharp word with whoever wrote the manual.

But not just email. All computer use. Real privacy on a network isn’t possible, no matter how hard we all pretend. It’s next to impossible to run a network properly without logging an awful lot of stuff, and once it leaves the computer in front of you, it’s out there. And employees should be told that.

(I once spend a couple of work hours cruising porn sites – to document what an employee had been up to. This was less than two weeks after I had had a face to face conversation with him about “If you do it on my network, I have a log of it.” I ended up with 45 pages of proxy server logs. In small print. He’s . . . no longer with the company.)

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Sara November 3, 2017 at 7:48 pm

Excellent post! We just let an employee go recently due to insubordination and just simply a bad fit in a small office, and when I got on his computer to clear things up, sure enough, he was using quite a bit of company time on finding a new job. I think you are very clear that you shouldn’t do this all the time, just because. It is legal, but it should be used when there’s a problem. I wouldn’t dream of doing it to any other employees right now, and I didn’t do it until after he left. It reinforced that we made the right decision. We once found porn on a computer of an employee who was let go – once again, it reinforced why this employee was so unproductive. In that case, it’s too bad we didn’t look sooner.

All employees should know that their work computers and emails are not private. Could you do a follow-up article on work mobile phones? This is such a dicey area – many of our employees have only one phone – their work phone. We are totally ok with that being used as a personal phone as well, but obviously that’s going to bring up a ton of issues. The same employee whom we let go said his mobile phone was stolen out of his car, but his personal phone was not (he had kept his personal phone). He did nothing to make sure the phone was erased or that company data wasn’t stolen. How do we deal with that in the future? I’m assuming if someone adds their personal email to their work mobile phone that legally, the company can look at that? Not that I ever would. Thanks.

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