California Court Rules Work E-mails are Not Private

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Work Emails Let's say you're seriously thinking about suing your employer for one reason or another, and you've even consulted an attorney about it. Whatever you do, DO NOT correspond to that attorney via your work e-mail account.

A California court just ruled that anything you send to your attorney from work will not be protected under attorney-client privilege.

That just applies to California residents for now, since it was a decision made by the Sacramento Third Appellate District court, but other states are sure to follow suit, and you don't want yours to be the case that sets the precedent.

The case that did set the precedent in California involved a woman by the name of Gina Holmes, who sued her employer on the grounds that her superiors became hostile toward her after they learned she was pregnant. She sent candid e-mails about the case to her attorney, from her office computer. Then she was surprised when her employers' defense attorneys used an e-mail she sent to her lawyer as evidence that she didn't suffer any emotional distress, and that her lawsuit was therefore frivolous.

Holmes' attorneys immediately appealed the decision, stating that it violated attorney-client privilege, but the court was unsympathetic. In a 3-to-0 decision, the appeals court determined that e-mails sent from work accounts can't be considered legally confidential, because "... [T]he e-mails sent via company computer under the circumstances of this case were akin to consulting her lawyer in her employer's conference room, in a loud voice, with the door open, so that any reasonable person would expect that their discussion of her complaints about her employer would be overheard."

The New Jersey Supreme Court recently ruled that e-mail messages on a personal, Web-based e-mail account, accessed on an employer's computer are indeed private, and can't be used against you in court. But the question could be asked, why would you conduct private business on company time, using company equipment? It doesn't take a genius to figure out that that sort of communication, especially if it involves anything negative about your employers, should happen off site on your own time.

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