Can my employer read my emails?

Posted: Tuesday May 12 2020

By: Abbie Coleman

Can my employer read my emails? Who is watching? Can my employer see my WhatsApps? How private are my emails? Can I check what my employees are using their work phones for? These are the types of questions employees and employers often ask.  The requirements relating to communications and social media use vary from business to business and the rules can often get lost in translation.

How should I be using my devices?

By Flora Mewies

If you are provided with a laptop, mobile, tablet etc by your employer, it is important that you understand what you are and aren’t permitted to use these devices for.  If you’re unsure, find out.

Commonly, employers will have a policy or statement on IT usage, communication and/or social media.  This may be in the employee handbook or a standalone document.  Such policies should allow you to understand the business’ expectations on how you use company devices and whether they are exclusively for work related matters or for personal use too.

If you are permitted to use such devices for personal use, this may be limited, for example, accessing the internet for personal use during your lunch break, or only making personal calls from your mobile in emergency situations.


As an employee, what can my employer see?

Employers are permitted to monitor emails, internet access, blogs and social networking sites and so on, in order to prevent liability arising; however, this must be done in line with internal protocols and in a way that does not breach the implied duty of trust and confidence owed to all employees.

As a result, the right to monitor communications may be written into your contract of employment or contained in a separate policy which you should read carefully.

Generally, employees are not permitted to send, forward or read private emails from personal accounts, such as Hotmail or Gmail, on work computer systems, as they pose a security risk; this includes forwarding cartoons, jokes or office gossip. When sending, forwarding or reading a private email, you should always consider whether you would want your employer to read it. Similarly, it is normal for employers to be able to access and view messages sent and received to work devices however this is normally only where there is cause for concern.

Employees should also be cautious when using social media platforms to make sure that their actions don’t damage their employer’s reputation, bring them into disrepute or impact any client relationships. Depending on the business’ rules on such actions, making an offensive or derogatory comment which can be traced through you to your employer, could lead to dismissal.

# Can my employer read my emails?

Should my business be monitoring my employees’ communications?

Employers have the right to access and monitor telephone, email and internet usage however this is only to the extent that it is reasonable and necessary.  For example, accessing emails on a daily basis to keep an eye on the employee is unlikely to be acceptable, however accessing emails when there is a genuine belief there has been a leak of confidential information is likely to be permissible.

Monitoring electronic systems is likely to involve the processing of personal data and be regulated by data protection legislation.  Employees must be informed of any monitoring the business can or may undertake and an impact assessment should be undertaken as good practice.

As a minimum, a monitoring policy should be prepared and should set out:

  • in what circumstances employees may be monitored;
  • how the information will be obtained;
  • how this information will be used; and
  • who it will be disclosed to.

Policies should be provided to all staff and cross-refer to other internal policies and procedures as required.  They should also clearly set out the consequences of inappropriate usage.


Wider IT and/or communications policies will also be beneficial to explain:

  • the conditions for personal use of company devices;
  • personal use of office equipment;
  • responsibility for additional costs incurred such as exceeding data allowances;
  • expectations regarding using social media.

If an employee has posted something on social media that potentially jeopardises the employer, it is the business’ responsibility to evidence the negative impact of their actions. It is a balancing act and in borderline situations where it is not completely clear, the business should investigate, assess and document the potential or actual damage caused.

Ward Hadaway can prepare standalone policies starting from as little as £200 plus VAT.  As part of our HR Protect package, template policies are included in our staff handbook which is provided, along with precedent documents and unlimited HR and employment law advice for a fixed monthly fee. You can get in touch with us here and a member of our team will contact you within 24 hours to discuss how HR Protect can work for your business.

# Can my employer read my emails?

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