When bosses have the right to monitor your personal e-mail

Office workers in Shenton Way.
Office workers in Shenton Way. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Companies by and large have the right to access your work e-mail, and this might mean they will read your personal correspondence, said human resource consultants.

The issue was in the spotlight last week after the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that a firm had not breached privacy rights by monitoring an employee's Yahoo Messenger account.

The Romanian engineer had set up the account at his employer's request to chat with clients, and was sacked in 2007 after the firm found he had exchanged messages with family members during work hours from a work computer.

He complained that the firm had breached his right to privacy, but the ECHR concluded that it was "not unreasonable for an employer to want to verify that the employees are completing their professional tasks during working hours".


-- ST ILLUSTRATION: CHNG CHOON HIONG

HR consultancies said big companies or large professional and financial firms here usually have the right to monitor their staff's company e-mail. These employees generally have signed agreements acknowledging that work e-mail can be accessed by the company.

HR consultancies said big companies or large professional and financial firms here usually have the right to monitor their staff's company e-mail. These employees generally have signed agreements acknowledging that work e-mail can be accessed by the company.

Companies typically check a few samples of employee e-mail every three or six months, said Mr Joshua Yim, the chief executive of recruitment firm Achieve Group.

But falling performance or negative changes in staff behaviour could prompt a closer look at an employee's correspondence, he said.

Ms Deborah Westphal, chief executive of advisory firm Toffler Associates, said firms need the right to do so, to protect the business - for example, in cases where confidential information has been leaked or clients have suffered losses.

Mr Ker Mui Chong, the managing director of IT solutions firm Progression Consultancy, said his firm checks company e-mail accounts only as a last resort, say, if it suspects an employee of unethical conduct and cannot get him to confess.

"We've got to trust them - if you don't trust them, I don't think you should hire them," he said.

Singtel told The Straits Times that it did not monitor staff e-mail, but would check a worker's company e-mail account should he come under investigation.

OCBC said it has systems to monitor such accounts to "guard against the unauthorised disclosure of sensitive and confidential information belonging to the bank, its customers, employees or partners".

Mr Chong Chon Ming, 38, who works for a United States-based firm, said companies should have the right to view what is sent through work e-mail accounts.

"Anything we do there should be related to company affairs. They should have full right to view it," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 18, 2016, with the headline 'When bosses have the right to monitor your personal e-mail'. Print Edition | Subscribe