General Question

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

You catch your boss searching through your email. How do you respond?

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49 Answers

CMaz's avatar

You say hello. That is pretty much it. If it is on the computer at work it is not yours.

La_chica_gomela's avatar

Your work email account or your personal email account?

Darwin's avatar

You ask him if you can help him find something. I must assume that this is a work email account, as you shouldn’t be accessing a personal email account on your work computer.

SirBailey's avatar

I ask him what’s going on. I pretend to listen to his answer. I’ll ask how he knew my password. If I suspect a key logger program, from that day on I will FEED him email info I WANT him to see. If I don’t suspect the keylogger and think maybe he saw me enter it, I would immediately change it yet STILL feed him info.

Then I would look over what he may have read, and prepare damage control.

hug_of_war's avatar

If you’re emailing things you wouldn’t want them to see, then in my opinion you’re the one who is crossing the line and they have every right to make sure your correspondence is professional. Most places I know of, they can log everything you do, including your efforts to hide whatever you’re doing. I am just astonished some people seem oblivious to this.

hungryhungryhortence's avatar

Not much, I especially wouldn’t talk about it unless asked by my boss. Where I work, most of the employees have each other on their facebooks and they are logged in all day so who knows what they talk about but I wouldn’t do it (am not part of it).

Jeruba's avatar

I seem to remember a legal precedent and maybe even a Supreme Court case concerning an employee’s rights of privacy at work. Unfortunately I don’t remember the decision.

Darwin's avatar

Having been the network administrator at my last job, if the boss had a need to go into someone’s account, I had the power to reset the password so he could look at things. Our city was found guilty at one point of using illegal software (loaded by employees without city permission) and had to pay a hefty fine, so that was a duty of department heads and administrators to check if they suspected something was being run that shouldn’t be. One of our supervisors installed FlightSimulator on any computer to which he had access, whether the computer could run it or not, and another stole software from previous jobs and used it at our place of business, even though similar software was licensed and installed for her use.

Our MIS department also had folks who had the rights to look at anyone’s stored files and log on to their city-issued accounts as well as use. They also had software that allowed them to see any screen on any workstation in the LAN real-time.

The computer and anything accessed through it are the business of the owner of the computer and the granter of the access. In other words, if it is unprofessional or not work related, don’t do it.

crisw's avatar

I am also in IT.

Our employees sign a statement that we can look at their email at any time. We also are required by Federal law to archive all email in an accessible format. This is pretty standard stuff.

You’d probably be surprised about what IT staff can find out about what you have been doing at work :>)

Darwin's avatar

@Jeruba – As I recall, if the employer has a policy that says anything done on the work computers belongs to the employer, then the employer can read your emails.

Can my employer read my email?

Probably. If your employer has a policy saying that the computer and email systems should be used for business purposes only, then it has the right to monitor your work email. If, however, it has policies that lead you to believe your email is private, then its rights may be more limited. As a practical matter, however, most courts to consider email privacy claims have found in favor of the employer, regardless of its policies.”

augustlan's avatar

I would ask if he was looking for anything in particular. I’d let him know I wondered why he was doing it, and was wondering if I’d done something to suggest impropriety.

cak's avatar

I wouldn’t be shocked or amazed, that happened frequently at the last place I worked; however, not to me. My boss, the department head, generally hated to deal with email.

I would offer to help him find something, but not worry. I didn’t use my work email for anything other than work. I was a project coordinator and department manager (nope…not the department head, just manager…too many chiefs, in that company!) I was very aware of their love of finding people using email for personal issues. It was their favorite way to fire an employee.

They had it in the paperwork you signed, when you were hired. It was incredibly clear that they meant business, about email.

oratio's avatar

In some countries that would be a criminal act by the employer, as it is by law protected by the same legislation as paper mail. I thought this was the case in the US as well.

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

@Jeruba The result was your work can read your work email since its all on their hardware.

CMaz's avatar

I had an employees that would password protect his computer. I was nice and put a memo out reminding everyone that the computer and their content is the property of the company and should not be password protected.
Then I went back and checked if the passwords were removed. They were not. I waited till monday morning, walked into his office, standing over him, I had all passwords removed from his computer. He was also taking crucial information and leaving it on a removable drive so it could only be accessed when he was present. That also had to stop. Needless to say, he was steamed. (That loss of control, It was never there to begin with.)
Once he came back to reality all was good again. For some people it can really suck to be reminded that they are not the boss.

Darwin's avatar

@oratio – Intercepting someone’s private email (hacking) or their personal mail (interfering with the US Post Office) or tapping their personal phone is illegal in the US, but that is not the same thing as an employer reading emails sent by employees during company time and on company provided equipment using company-provided email systems.

Anything that is a product of your work for an employer on equipment owned by your employer belongs to the employer. In most cases, your email address and in box are supplied by and/or paid for by your employer so any use of the system belongs to the employer. A number of court cases have affirmed the right of the employer over the rights of the employee.

However, most companies wisely state a policy about this and generally have employees sign a statement that they have been told that their email and computer files belong to the employer, not the employee.

casheroo's avatar

I thought employers were allowed to monitor work emails? My mother emails me sometimes from work, and it has a disclaimer at the bottom. I rarely email her at work, usually just to her personal. She does have a personal phone at work, but the one line used to record everything we said.

PandoraBoxx's avatar

Both your phone and computer at work are provided for business use. Both can be monitored by your employer; internet activity can be tracked.

juwhite1's avatar

I search people’s emails at work from time to time. I just get access to it and remote in. I only do it when I have good reason (not just a suspicion, but actual evidence) to believe their is illegal or harassing behavior, and I limit my search to what I’m looking for (ie – I don’t go on witch hunts, randomly go through people’s emails, or read personal emails that are clearly not related to the issue I’m investigating). Our managers do not have access to do this, and for good reason. There are a great number of legal issues to consider when choosing to search an employee’s email accounts, but business do have the right to do so. It is their equipment, their internet connection, and their time they are paying you for. Most companies have a policy that lays this out for employees, but somehow, many employees don’t seem to think anyone will ever have reason to access it.

asmonet's avatar

When a company provides your email address it is for work purposes only. You didn’t ‘catch’ him doing anything. You observed him doing his job.

If he’s singling you out or snooping without cause – tough to prove – then you have an issue.

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

@asmonet You’re assuming I’m not the boss.

@all This isn’t about the legality of email, it’s about what you would do.

juwhite1's avatar

Then I suppose I’d have to just say, “Whew! I sure am glad that email policy isn’t just a load of crap!”

asmonet's avatar

Then it’s a stupid riddle not a straightforward question.
And I answered it.

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

@asmonet That’s a bit over the top. Your intent is noted however. Feel free to skip over these questions if you prefer.

cookieman's avatar

As I work on a farm, my boss wouldn’t know an eMail from an endive – so it wouldn’t happen.

I also happen to be the one who administers the eMails for the few accounts we do have – so if anyone is looking at eMails, it’d be me.

But, to answer the question hypothetically, Id ask if there was something I could help her find.

asmonet's avatar

There was no intent.
I simply noted the effect your statement had on me. You redefined the intent of your question causing me to lose interest and become annoyed by it. In my eyes it does not fit with the guidelines. If I spend the time and energy to think about your situation and then advise you on it, it is rude to turn around once that’s been done and say, “Just kidding. It’s a puzzle!”

Tell me from the beginning it’s hypothetical or specifically for your own amusement and I’ll gladly ignore your questions.

onesecondregrets's avatar

Talk with him about trust, if he does it again- quit. You have to trust employees, and for you- employers.

oratio's avatar

I just feel that this is an intrusion into the integrity of the individual. I shouldn’t matter if the computer belongs to the employer or not, the mail content should be protected.

Now, if an employer shows that the work of the employee is affected by mailing on company time, that is different. It doesn’t give them the right to go through personal mail, but does make a case for firing people. A good worker should be able to check the mail during work. A bad worker shouldn’t work there at all, mail or no mail.

It might depend on what kind of job you have as well. I am working right now as I write, as I work at a reception desk during the summer. It doesn’t affect my work as I do it when things are idle. There would be no grounds to fire me.

It’s illegal to read employees mail where I live, and I think it should be. If you work in a post where you are security classed, like with military research, then it’s another story.

asmonet's avatar

@oratio: Your post gave me the impression you were assuming this was personal email on a work computer, and I’mn fairly certain we’re discussing work emails.

oratio's avatar

@asmonet I am not sure why it would matter. Should a university have the right to read your shool e-mail? If I create an e-mail I should have the right to how it is used. I see it as something exclusive between the sender and the recipient, and not a third party. Spying on employees should be illegal. It seems I am the only one who thinks that it is wrong. Am I missing the point here? Maybe my arguments are out of context. They have been before. I don’t know.

Darwin's avatar

@oratio – Does an employee have the right to use stamps from the office to mail personal letters? That would be considered theft.

If the employer pays for the computer, assigns the email inbox, pays for the Internet access, offers the system’s availability only during work hours, and has told the employees this is for work use only, how can the employer not have the right to read emails composed on and sent through the employer’s equipment?

oratio's avatar

@Darwin Cause the information is not created by the company. Stamps are physical papers of value. The computers in a school, or a library are owned by someone else as well. If you send a mail from my computer in my home, I don’t consider myself having the right to the content either.

Look, we obviously have a difference of value when it comes to individual rights and protection of personal integrity as a democratic right. I understand that money and ownership seems to trump those values here and in the US. Probably in some parts of Eu as well. That is not going to change. We will just disagree.

Darwin's avatar

“Cause the information is not created by the company. ”

But it is created by an employee of the company, during time that the employee is paid to do work for the company, on equipment and software paid for by the company, and should represent only the interests of the company, especially since in most cases employees are pre-warned that is the case.

If you give me permission to use your computer to send emails, that is another thing altogether, but even so I would be a fool to send something I couldn’t allow you to read because computers record things in all sorts of ways we do not see.

oratio's avatar

@Darwin Yes. It is possible to read anything you do on a computer. We just disagree on if anyone else has the right to do that or not. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. I do respect your opinions, and I see your logic. I disagree with that, cause I have a different approach to it.

What I believe matters is that you do your work as you are expected and paid to do. As I said, what you write in a mail should be private between sender and recipient. Even if I would steal a paper, a letter and a pen from a company, that letter is protected by law during the time it is in the mail. Yes, I agree that I have paid for the stamp which makes it eligable to enter the mail system. But the integrity of the mail isn’t due to my stamp.

There are however easy ways to encrypt mail and refuse to use your companies resources for communications at all. People are not just employees, they are citizens as well.

As I don’t see that the work contract should allow employers to spy on their emplyees – other than in security classed positions – we have a fundamental disagreement that we probably will not overcome.

Maybe I am just too much a child of our socialism. I don’t know. I will give this a lot of more thought.

Darwin's avatar

If you “refuse to use your companies resources for communications at all” then there would be no email to read and hence the problem is solved, much as the companies would like it to be solved.

If it isn’t work related, don’t do it where your boss can see it.

oratio's avatar

@Darwin Sure, I just don’t see why anybody should need to hide correspondence. That just makes a relationship fundamentally dishonest.

Darwin's avatar

Precisely – don’t cheat your employer by using his resources to do things you don’t want him to see. That is dishonest.

oratio's avatar

@Darwin Exactly. Just as dishonest as spying on your employee while he/she does his job, even though he/she sometimes sends mail that is private whoever owns the equipment.

Your approach is from a ownerships view. Mine is from personal integrity as well as from the perspective of immaterial property. There is a fundamental difference right there.

What if I just pay the company for my personal emails? Now I am a customer. I guess that would protect my mails more than an employees.

Darwin's avatar

Nope. We disagree. If you don’t want to share it, don’t use the boss’ equipment.

Did you realize what you write here is not yours? It belongs to Fluther as soon as you click Answer. The same thing happens on your work computer.

oratio's avatar

@Darwin Yes, but the difference here is that I choose to share it.

Darwin's avatar

Then if you write something on your work computer you have chosen to share that as well. If you don’t want to share it, then save it for home.

oratio's avatar

Well, by that you would make it the property of the network company as well. How would your mails be protected from sending them from your home then? What you are saying is that your children can’t call you at work, neither can your childrens school if something happens. You might put this in emergency communications section. Who makes that judgement? The company you work for?

It seems as you think that if you allow people to use correspondence for mailing away all day and not do their job. If you don’t do your job, that’s another question, but as long as you do your job, there is no justification for that people couldn’t use mail and phone for personal calls.

Darwin's avatar

No, that is not what I am saying.

1) At home you are paying the bills and supplying the equipment and so have more of an expectation of privacy (although thanks to George W. Bush almost anything goes in the interest of “Homeland Security”). At work your employer is paying the bills and supplying the equipment. His toys, his rules.

2) Depending on your company’s personal call policy you can indeed take calls from your children or their school. What you can’t do is make long-distance calls to your children away at university on company time and the company tab.

You do not have a right to abuse your employer’s resources. In fact, you don’t even have a right to work for that employer. You have the privilege of working there. You can quit anytime or be fired for cause if you wish. Then you don’t have to worry about being unable to distinguish personal business from professional activity.

oratio's avatar

@Darwin No, he wants my labor, he has to supply the equipment. The rules are not the employers, it’s a mutual conscent and an agreement. His toys, my labor, agreed rules.

Priviliege of working for an employer? You paint up a picture of master and servant relationship. Is this how a working relationship is in the US? It is supposed to be a mutual priviliege.

We have a different culture basically. I come from a somewhat socialist background and you from a capitalist. There is just no way for us to overcome that in this issue.

Let’s say that you are right in the US, and I am right in Sweden. If I move to the US, I’ll just have to accept your reality, and if you would move here, you ours.

They have tried things like this in my country. No dice.

Darwin's avatar

If you don’t want to follow your employer’s rules, then work for yourself.

oratio's avatar

There is a difference between rules and rights. You clearly support having the employers dictating the market.

Darwin's avatar

Yes, there is a difference between rules and rights, and also between rights and privileges. You have the right to seek a job and if you take it you agree to the rules. Your employer also has rights, privileges and rules to follow, including the right to have employees not abuse the working relationship.

oratio's avatar

You are totally right. I was wrong all along.

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