To date, courts have upheld an employer's right to monitor an employee's email because the employee is using the employer's computer equipment on the employer's time. Employers are not required to inform employees of their intent to monitor email, voice mail, and other communications which may include personal content. However, members of Congress are considering legislation that would require employers to advise employees of their intent to monitor such communications.
A bill that has been introduced in the House would require employers to disclose all methods of monitoring communication at the time a new employee is hired, and to update employees annually as to changes in such methods. The bill would not prevent employers from secretly monitoring an employee's communications if there is a reason to believe an illegal activity is taking place.
Employers who argue in favor of monitoring employee communications claim such monitoring is necessary to check the validity of harassment claims, to determine if trade secrets are being passed inappropriately, and to protect the company from computer viruses.
If passed, the legislation would includes fines to the employer of up to $20,000 per employee if the law is disobeyed.
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