The Wall Street Journal - Big Brother is watching. That is the message corporations routinely send their employees about using email.
But recent cases have shown that employees sometimes have more privacy rights than they might expect when it comes to the corporate email server. Legal experts say that courts in some instances are showing more consideration for employees who feel their employer has violated their privacy electronically.
Driving the change in how these cases are treated is a growing national concern about privacy issues in the age of the Internet, where acquiring someone else's personal and financial information is easier than ever.
"Courts are more inclined to rule based on arguments presented to them that privacy issues need to be carefully considered," said Katharine Parker, a lawyer at Proskauer Rose who specializes in employment issues.
In past years, courts showed sympathy for corporations that monitored personal email accounts accessed over corporate computer networks. Generally, judges treated corporate computers, and anything on them, as company property.
Now, courts are increasingly taking into account whether employers have explicitly described how email is monitored to their employees.
That was what happened in a case earlier this year in New Jersey, when an appeals court ruled that an employee of a home health-care company had a reasonable expectation that email sent on a personal account wouldn't be read.