These days, you should not expect email messages at work to remain private. Even courts these days side with employers with regards to email privacy. Keeping the legality of it aside, employers do tend to monitor the emails of their employees.
With the help of technology, employers can virtually keep a track on the communications which take place at work by employees. Employers also tend to take advantage of various tracking devices to be able to read the emails of their employees. However why would employers have an interest in the things which employees are writing in their emails? One of the reasons is because they wish to avoid legal liability and in case they are sued, employers need to hand in emails which come under electronic document.
Courts believe that employers are free to read the email messages of their employees as long as they have a valid business reason for doing so. A number of companies nowadays make use of company email policies through which they can reinforce these rights. The policies tell employees that their emails aren’t private and that their messages are being monitored. A couple of companies also require that employees sign consent forms stating that they are aware their emails aren’t private.
Even those companies which do not have an email policy have a legal right to read the email messages of their employees as long as these are sent using the company’s network and equipment. If the company however does take steps to maintain the privacy of emails or if they ensure that employee emails are private, employees may wish and have higher expectations of privacy in the messages. Courts however tend to decide in favor of the employers mostly if the company has a strong enough reason or reading the emails.
Keeping the issue of legality aside, most employers now on a routine basis monitor the emails of their employees. Some email systems copy all the messages which pass through them automatically; some create a back up copy of the new emails as they are received and some employers even make use of a software called the key logger which saves copies of even drafted email messages which never get sent. Thus if employees tend to believe that once they delete their emails, they are gone for good are certainly mistaken.
Thus by knowing all this, how can an employee stay out of trouble with regard to his workplace email? The best thing to do is to treat your computer and email system at work the way you would treat your business phone. Limit the communication you have with friends and family while making use of the work email and do not send any messages which others may interpret as unkind or bigoted even if your intention was not to do that and instead was to simply joke around and be humorous. Others will certainly not look at it the same way which is why you must be careful.
The best rule to follow in such matters is to not send any message which you would not feel comfortable if for example your mother were to read it however in this it applies to your co-workers reading it.