A recent court case has clarified employees’ rights – or lack of – when it comes to using an office computer for personal correspondence.
In the case of Simpkin v The Berkeley Group Holdings PLC, an employee sent an email from his work email account to his personal email account, along with an attachment which contained personal details about an incentive plan offered by his employer.
Mr Simpkin then forwarded the email from his personal account to his solicitor to obtain advice in relation to divorce proceedings.
Mr Simpkin subsequently made an application to restrain the use of this same document in the context of an employment dispute, arguing that it was ‘privileged’ information.
The Court was asked to consider whether the document in question was confidential between the employer and the employee.
A judge at the High Court ruled that no employee should reasonably expect personal documents saved to a folder on an employer’s server to remain ‘private’.
In particular, the court took the decision that Simpkin had signed the company’s IT policy which made it clear that emails sent and received on its IT system were the employer’s property.
Additionally, his employment contract stated that his emails were subject to monitoring without his consent.
“Furthermore, the document was created in the course of Simpkin’s employment while he was at the employer’s office and had been saved in a folder on one of the employer’s central servers.”
Lara Murray, an employment law expert with Palmers, said: “This case illustrates that employees should be aware of their company’s IT policy and of the risks involved in sending personal emails in company time.
“Quite apart from the fact that you may be breaking your company’s rules regarding use of their computer equipment to conduct personal business, you may find that your documents are not as private as you may imagine and could be used against you in a disciplinary hearing.”
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