Is it legal for an employer to access a personal e-mail account of an employee on work grounds without consent?

UPDATED: Apr 9, 2012

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Is it legal for an employer to access a personal e-mail account of an employee on work grounds without consent?

I had left my job without giving notice, and my employer went into my saved account through Google Chrome (GMail account) without my permission. They contacted my current employer and bad-mouthed me as an employee. Although my account was saved for easy access on my work computer (it was my fault for not changing my password), is it legal for my ex-employer to access my account without my permission, and continue to rifle through my emails to find out where I was? They proceeded to also e-mail my current HR rep and my boss. I have proof of their access, e-mails and phone calls.

Asked on April 9, 2012 under Employment Labor Law, California


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

1) No, an employer may not access your web-based personal email account, even if you have accessed it before from work. This potentially is a violation of several laws protecting internet privacy and preventing others from masquerading as you (using your log-in and password) online. It is dangerous to use your personal email from work, since employers may, if they have put in place a monitoring policy, monitor internet usage (including internet email) as it goes across their systems--but to log in as you after you leave appears to be a violation of the law.

2) If the former employer has made any untrue factual assertions about you to your new employer (i.e. they have said things about you which are demonstrably untrue, as opposed to being merely negative opinions, to which they, like anyone, are entitled), that may be defamation.

You may therefore have one or more legal claims against your former employer, and should consult with a personal injury or employment law attorney (either should be able to help you, from different perspectives) about your situation in more detail.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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