Could I be sued for looking in a co-worker’s email?

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Could I be sued for looking in a co-worker’s email?

I got a grant and manage an art project. I don’t have employees; the 2 people who work for me are consultants. Yesterday, 1of them said that she felt bad and needed a walk while we were working on something urgent. I needed a document she had and looked in her email inbox (that was open as first screen). She say anything to me directly, but rather, she told me the other consultant that she will sue me. Could I be sued for looking in a co-worker’s email if it was to finish my work? Which could be the legal consequences?

Asked on April 16, 2011 under Employment Labor Law, Pennsylvania

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

You have violated her privacy (which is protected by law) and violated laws relating to electronic communications, so she may have a cause of action. Whether or not you needed to finish your work doesn't matter (except as see below). However, assuming she has suffered no losses or injuries, she can't really recover any significant amounts from you--lawsuits are designed primarily to compensate for losses, so without losses, there may be liability, but no effective recovery or compensation due.

The exception: IF you provided the email--e.g. the email account was one paid for by you or your business and provided to the employee purely for her use on your business or project--then you may have had the right to look in the email.


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