If you’re using the company email account, then everything in that inbox belongs to the business.
This means that your emails can be read by anyone at any time.
Email, it’s an immensely powerful tool that helps you function as an employee.
It connects you with customers, helps you plan your day, and lets you collaborate with colleagues.
It also isn’t private, isn’t yours, and can be opened up and read by anyone in the business if it happens to be a corporate account.
As Nicol Myburgh, Head: CRS Technologies HCM Business Unit, points out – it isn’t necessary for the boss to read your email, it also isn’t very nice, but they are well within their rights to do so.
“When an email account, or any form of office productivity software or platform, belongs to the company for employees to use, then the content within those platforms and accounts belongs to the business,” he explains. “Anyone who is so authorised in the company is allowed to monitor those emails, and employees can’t have any expectation of privacy at all.”
This is a point of contention.
After all, most people assume that what they write is personal and private, and so often use email to connect with friends and family. It’s entirely normal for people to use their emails across both personal and professional layers, and often they can share intensely private information that they don’t want anyone to know.
Yet, the boss can read these emails and potentially use the information in them to fire someone, discipline them or give them a warning.
“It’s advisable to always keep personal and professional communication as separate as possible,” says Myburgh.
“This applies to WhatsApp as well – companies can monitor and read business channels, so any messages sent here can be used by managers to assess performance or employee behaviours.”
As more and more companies embrace a work-from-home or hybrid working framework for employees, there has been an increase in the use of monitoring software that’s installed on an employee’s machine to track and see if they’re working. Keystroke monitoring, webcam monitoring, email and social monitoring – these are all tactics used by companies to make sure that people aren’t spending their time watching TV instead of working.
However, these can be an invasion of privacy – as Myburgh points out, if a person sends a private email using a private service like Gmail, and this email is monitored, that would be a contravention of that person’s privacy.
“The problem is, there remains a grey area around what’s legal or illegal when it comes to tracking people’s computer usage or using their webcams to watch them when those people are using company property,” says Myburgh.
“This is still being debated, and some companies are firmly for it, while others find it creepy and an illegal contravention of privacy. It’s just important that people pay attention to what their company expects from them and make choices based on what they’re comfortable with.”
There is also the risk of private emails being used to dismiss someone. If the boss reads an email on the work account and it contravenes company policy, that person can be fired or disciplined. It will depend on what the email says – defamation against the company, attacks on a person’s character, abusive content – this type of content puts the employee at risk and the manager well within their rights to implement proceedings.
“There will always be grey areas, especially as companies and employees learn to navigate these new ways of working on digital platforms, but the rule of thumb is to use the POPI Act as your guiding light and be respectful on all company platforms to avoid unpleasant outcomes,” concludes Myburgh.