It's the age of the Internet and almost everything people do nowadays is in some way connected to the web.
Social networking sites, emails, chat rooms, etc., the World Wide Web facilitates communication and brings people from great distances closer.
However, as with any great strides in technology, it also raises some pretty serious concerns such as intrusion to privacy.
More specifically, how does it affect employee privacy rights?
There are a lot of questions that it raises such as employer rights vs. employee rights when it comes to resources from the web.
Unfortunately, the Internet is still very young and the laws are just starting to adapt to the changes it brings.
Here are some concepts that you can follow to have some understanding about employee privacy rights when it comes to the Internet:
Reasonable expectation of privacy
One of the questions always asked is that if you say something bad about your employer or the company in non-employer social networks, blogs, chat rooms, etc. and the employer finds out about this and fires you, is that a violation of your employee privacy rights?
It depends; the best standard followed in these cases is "do you have a reasonable expectation to privacy?"
If you disparage your employer in Facebook or in a personal blog but the settings is completely open to the public, then you should expect the possibility that the comments you made can be read by your employer.
But if you took measures to limit the number of people who can have access to those comments, then you can prove that you have reasonable expectations of privacy.
Stored Communications Act
This law protects your privacy by giving Internet Service Providers (ISP) the right to resist a subpoena that is requiring them to reveal your identity.
So if you have said something bad about your employer and the company in an email, you can use this law to protect your identity if ever the employer finds out about the comments you made.
The employer will not be able to force the ISP to reveal that you are the owner of that email.
Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation
Also known as SLAPP, this law gives you the right to expose a lawsuit against you as meritless because it was done to intimidate and prevent you from freely communicating on an issue of public interest.
To prove this, you have to show that the comments you made were of public interest and that the lawsuit filed by the employer lacked substantial facts to support it.
Employer owned resources
The three laws stated above are mostly for actions you made outside the workplace and using an ISP that is not under your employer.
Most companies have policies that states ownership of company emails and other resources on the web thus they have the right to its content.
Better inquire about that before thinking of sending private messages using your company email.