“It’s Not Personal E-Mail…It’s Strictly Business”

We’ve all used work e-mail for personal stuff, haven’t we? You know: connecting with college friends, organizing family reunions, and making appointments with our lawyers, right?

Wait a second….what was that last thing?

If you live in Northern California, take note: a state appeals court just ruled that an employee’s attorney-client e-mails that use his employer’s company e-mail account are not protected, confidential communications.

Most medium to large businesses have e-mail and Web policies with a bunch of legalese that says everything you write, surf, and access using the company’s computer equipment, phones, and Internet service is subject to company rules and policy.

You would think that an employee would know better, especially if she hired an employment lawyer to represent her in a case against her employer.

But that’s what happened in this California appeals court case, Holmes v. Petrovich Development Co., LLC, et al., decided this month.

The defendant employer had the case thrown out in the trial court, using the plaintiff-employee’s e-mail “to show that she didn’t suffer severe emotional distress, was only frustrated, and annoyed, and [that she] filed the action at the urging of her attorney.”

The employer’s handbook had a detailed e-mail policy outlining that it was for business use, and property of the company, and the plaintiff signed an acknowledgement that she read it when she started working there.

What’s are some of the lessons from this case that can be helpful not only in California, but in any state?

  • Don’t e-mail your attorney using your company’s computer or your company’s e-mail account.
  • E-mail from home using your private e-mail
  • Call your attorney using your own phone, not your company’s phone
  • If you have a smartphone, don’t use your company’s wireless network to communicate with your attorney.

Take the advice of businessman Michael Corleone: “It’s not personal..It’s strictly business.”

That’s why you should use your personal e-mail and your own computer for personal stuff, and business e-mail for…well, strictly business.

Picture credits: Library of Congress