October 16, 2002by Israel Foulon LLP
Question: We are concerned that some of our employees may be using the Internet to visit non-work-related Web sites on company time. We would like to track Internet and e-mail use in order to determine whether these suspicions can be substantiated. Are there any legal issues we should be aware of with respect to privacy?
Answer: Generally, it is legally permissible for employers to monitor employees’ e-mail and Internet use since the computers on which the employee is accessing the Internet or sending and receiving e-mail are company property. The basis for this view is that an employee has no expectation of privacy with respect to any communications using company property.
In fact, Internet and e-mail usage policies are now common and employers without them should seriously consider implementing one. Such policies inform employees of the types of Internet and e-mail use which is prohibited and also advises them that the company reserves the right to monitor e-mail and Internet usage and employees should have no expectation of privacy with respect to computer use. The employee should be required to provide their consent to the monitoring of their work email and internet accounts.
Internet policies have become increasingly important for employers due to the proliferation of employees accessing pornographic material on the Internet while at work. Employers have a legal duty to protect their employees from workplace sexual harassment, an obligation which by extension may be seen to include preventing employee exposure to pornography on the Internet.
Peter Israel is the senior partner in the Toronto law firm of Israel Foulon LLP – Employment and Labour Lawyers. He can be reached at 416-640-1550 or firstname.lastname@example.org. A version of this article originally appeared in the Carswell publication, Canadian Employment Law Today