Have you ever bad-mouthed your boss on a company phone? Or have you streamed a new show at your desk? Often, such conduct violates company policy and could result in disciplinary action. Of course, that only matters if someone peers over your shoulder and catches you in the act… or if your employer is monitoring everything you do online. If you’ve ever violated company internet policy, you might be wondering: can employers read your emails?
Can Employers Read Your Emails in New York?
The short answer is yes, employers can conduct electronic monitoring of employees in the state of New York. However, the state limits such monitoring to work-owned devices. Companies cannot listen to employees’ phone conversations, either, without violating the state’s wiretapping law. Employers can, however, set up video surveillance in the workplace, as long as it is in compliance with the New York Labor Law. Section 203-C mandates that any workplace surveillance monitoring cannot take place in restrooms, locker rooms, or anywhere designated for employees to change clothes.
Pending Employee Privacy Legislation in New York
While employers currently have wide latitude to monitor employees’ digital activity while at work, two bills have passed the New York State Senate which would strengthen protections for workers.
Senate Bill S615A, introduced by Senator Jessica Ramos, would ban employers from asking for or requiring employees to give up login information to online accounts. Employers could not ask for usernames, passwords, or other details as a condition of employment or for any other reason. This bill is waiting on passage in the assembly and could then be sent to Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Senate Bill S2628, introduced by Senator James Sanders, Jr., would require that employers disclose any online monitoring programs to employees in writing upon hiring and once annually to all employees. This bill would not prevent companies from engaging in email monitoring and other such surveillance, but they would have to inform employees that they are doing so.