Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Business Law: Employees and E-mail

The New York Times'A Company Computer and Questions About E-Mail Privacy brings an interesting case to light for me. The facts may make it impossible to duplicate exactly but I say it will be worth following:

"In a lawsuit that he filed in May against Structured Settlement Investments, the finance company he used to run, Mr. Sidell claims that executives at the company went so far as to read e-mail messages that he had sent to his lawyers discussing his strategy for winning an arbitration claim over his lost job.

“It’s kind of like the other side gets your playbook or they’re spying on your locker room,” said Russell Green, a lawyer representing Mr. Sidell. He said that his client was now using a new e-mail address.

The lawsuit filed by Mr. Sidell in federal court in Connecticut involves an unsettled area of the law, where changes in technology create tension between expectations of personal privacy and companies’ rights to monitor the equipment they provide to employees. The case’s unusual combination of facts, which are in dispute, paves the way for a decision that could help set a precedent for dealing with personal e-mail at work."


But Mr. Sidell was no longer an employee when his mail was supposedly read. And he said in his complaint that it went well beyond the company’s rights to read e-mail messages from the personal account of a terminated employee to his lawyer.

“The plaintiff is alleging, and I think he may have a very strong argument, that his former employer exceeded their authority,” Mr. Zimmerman said. “That is, he is accusing them of accessing his Yahoo account without authorization, in violation of federal law.”


Mr. Crossman said the company could see what Mr. Sidell had done because Mr. Sidell’s Yahoo e-mail account remained visible on the computer screen. “He did it in plain sight so that people in the office saw what he had done on the open, operating computer,” he said.

That twist in the case, if true, may support the company’s claim against Mr. Sidell for violating terms of his employment contract, which among other things prohibited him from competing against his employer for three years after leaving the company.