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Can Your Employer Monitor Your Private Work Messages?

Posted on January 11, 2019 | Firm News

Technology allows for greater communication, but it also leaves an electronic footprint of all your private discussions. In personal circumstances, you expect your email and private messages to remain private – and for the most part, you have that right.

Workplace electronic communication is a different story. Many employers take advantage of certain tracking devices to read employee communications – which isn’t a pleasant thought. However, most employers maintain the right to monitor private work messages.

Slack and Workplace Privacy

In April 2018, the workplace collaboration tool Slack made headlines when it introduced a new update that allowed employers to view employee messages. Slack operates like a network of chat rooms for employees to facilitate communication and collaborate on various ideas. However, the platform has evolved into a more social app and many employees began to use it for personal communications with coworkers.

Employers have had the power to read Slack messages since 2014. However, employers had to download a “Compliance Export” to read an archive of past messages. Slack users received a notification when an employer orders an export.

However, their updated policy changes this process. Slack discontinued Compliance Exports and expanded its downloading options to include the following:

  • Workplace owners can download all public data
  • Employers on the Plus plan can download all data from their workplace’s Slack communications, including private channels and direct messages
  • Employees will no longer receive notifications when the employer orders an export

Slack users have questioned the ethics of this practice. The platform is unique due to its social media-like style and format, leading many employees to assume that their messages are private. However, employees should not assume that any work-related technology they use is private.

Does Electronic Privacy Exist in the Workplace?

Whether you use Slack, workplace email, or a business phone, employers have the ability to monitor your messages – as long as there is a valid business purpose for doing so. Usually, employers will inform their employees of this activity during training or in a policy handbook. Even without a written policy, a company still has the legal right to read messages transmitted through workplace accounts.

However, some employers waive their right to monitor these communications. They will tell their employees that their emails are confidential. In addition, employers cannot monitor emails for illegal purposes, such as targeting employees for organizing a strike.

In the case of monitoring personal communications on a workplace computer, the law becomes more complex. If you use a personal email on a company computer, your employer can monitor your emails on a workplace computer with written consent. Usually, the employer obtains this consent through a policy acknowledgment, which states that the employer will monitor all computer use.

In the case of platforms like Slack, employers typically purchase and provide Slack accounts for their employees. As a result, the law considers Slack a form of workplace technology and employers have the right to monitor it.

Tips for Staying Safe With Workplace Communications

You may wonder if your communications are truly private on workplace accounts and electronic devices. The short answer is no, they are not. Your employers have a legal right to monitor their employees’ electronic activity. However, there are actions you can take to avoid issues with workplace technology.

  • Always assume that someone else will read your messages.
  • Do not write anything to another coworker that could be offensive to an outside reader.
  • Do not send any messages that you would feel uncomfortable if someone else read.
  • Limit all communications on workplace devices and accounts to work-related activities.
  • Do not use personal accounts on company devices.
  • Review all company policies for information on electronic monitoring.

Always exercise caution when communicating in the workplace. Keeping your messages professional will help you remain in good standing at your job, both online and on the ground. But if you believe your employer violated your privacy which resulted in termination, talk to a wrongful termination attorney to check if you have a case in your hands.