The Ashley Madison hack a couple of months ago had far
wider-reaching implications than potentially revealing the
infidelities of more than 30 million users. It also has employment
The hack raises questions about the improper use of company
email and internet facilities by employees. Do you know what
"acceptable use" of your work email or internet really
means? What happens if you have a personal tablet or mobile phone
or laptop that you also use for work related purposes from time to
time? Does that mean that the footprints of your personal usage are
also downloaded to and kept on the company's IT system? Can you
be held accountable for things that you do in your own personal
time, but that are downloaded to the company's IT system?
It's important to have a proper understanding of your
privacy rights and vulnerabilities when it comes to using the
company's email and internet system, and of your own devices
for work purposes. When I first started working in a law firm, I
was told by my IT manager not to do anything on the work computer,
including sending personal emails from my personal email account,
that I wouldn't want people to see if I were the Prime
Minister. This was in the context of the emails Julia Gillard had
sent while working as a lawyer for Slater & Gordon, many years
before. No matter how insignificant an email or Google search may
seem at the time, you never know when something you did via email
or on the internet at work, is going to come out of the woodwork
and jeopardise your career, social standing and/or reputation.
Most employers have rules in relation to use of the
company's email, internet and IT system in general. These rules
are usually found in a policy, if not embedded in the employment
contract itself. While most employers recognise that employees will
email from work for personal purposes, there are generally
restrictions on how much time can be spent on personal matters, and
when that time should be spent, for example, before or after hours,
or during lunch breaks.
However, it's important to understand that allowing personal
use of the company's electronic systems does not mean that the
company waives the right to monitor or view those emails or your
internet browsing history. When you use your employer's system,
you are often providing your employer with the right to access,
monitor and review correspondence or activity that you might
otherwise consider to be private.
If your company's stance on email, internet and IT usage is
unclear, the first thing to do is to contact your supervisor or IT
manager and clarify what your position is, and what exactly they
can access and monitor, especially if you use your personal
electronic device for work related purposes, even if it's a
sporadic check of your inbox while you're on the train.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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An employee that refused a reasonable offer of settlement was ordered by the FWC to pay his ex-employer's legal costs.
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