The increased use of text messaging and e-mail by employees has risen dramatically, with no end in sight. In the workplace, text messages and e-mails may be sent by employees using employer-issued computers, BlackBerrys, and cell phones. But what happens when an employee uses these employer-issued devices for personal messages? Does an employer have any right to access and read those messages? When does an employer cross over the line between controlling the use of employer-issued electronic devices and the privacy rights of its employees?
Several recent court decisions have highlighted the fundamental need for employers to have clearly worded policies addressing employee use of work-issued electronic devices. For example, in the U.S. Supreme Court case City of Ontario v. Quon, the city of Ontario, Calif., police department found itself in litigation when it reviewed personal text messages sent to and from a city-issued pager. The police department distributed pagers to its officers so they could quickly respond to emergencies. The city’s contract with its service provider set a monthly limit on the number of characters sent or received — if employees went over this limit, they were charged a fee.
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