Here’s Why Your Boss Can’t Just Spy On Your Emails

You’re at work. Did you leave your private life at the door? What if your boss is snooping on your phone calls? Your emails? Your movements?

Ms Copland worked as a Personal Assistant to the Principal of Carmarthenshire College in Wales. As part of her job, she worked closely with the Deputy Principal. One day, Ms Copland visited a campus of the College with a male director. She later became aware that the Deputy Principal had contacted the campus to ask about her visit. He was suggesting that there was an improper relationship between Ms Copland and the director.

At work, the Deputy Principal had asked for Ms Copland’s phone, email and internet use to be monitored. The College even contacted Ms Copland’s step-daughter to ask about some emails that she had sent. The College had no general policy of monitoring employees’ communications at the time; only Ms Copland’s emails were investigated.

Between 1996 and 1999, several of Ms Copland’s activities had been monitored on the Deputy Principal’s instructions. Ms Copland believed that he had become aware of a fax sent to her solicitors (which should have been subject to lawyer-client confidentiality) and that her personal movements, both at work and when she was on leave, were the subject of intrusive surveillance.

Ms Copland took her case to court, arguing that that level of monitoring was inappropriate. She had not been warned that her calls and emails would be monitored and she was entitled to a reasonable expectation of privacy. Ms Copland also argued that the monitoring had caused her stress, anxiety and loss of sleep.

In 2007, the court agreed with Ms Copland. There was at the time no law regulating the monitoring of employees’ emails. This meant that the monitoring was unlawful and violated Ms Copland’s right to respect for private life. Ms Copland was awarded some compensation for the stress.

Her case reinforces the fact that the right to privacy extends into the workplace. As a result, employee communications monitoring policies must be fairly applied. So, if your boss wants to read your emails, they’d better have a clear justification for it.

This story is a short summary of a legal decision. You can read the full text here

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