A teacher calls because she believes someone at the school board has access to her email and has been monitoring her messages. She has heard from her principal that board officials are aware of her communications. She wonders if her employer has the right to read her email.
The teacher is cautioned that the fact that other people may be aware of her messages is not evidence that her email has been opened. Email is not a secure mode of communication. Email messages can be printed, forwarded, forwarded with attachments, and/or copied, often without the knowledge or the consent of the author. Once a person sends a message via email, the sender loses control and ownership of the message.
While there is no statutory right to email privacy, there is a reasonable expectation for privacy. Some email systems warn users when they log on that operators have access to the system under some circumstances. The teacher is advised to review the board's policy manual to see whether there is a clear email policy giving a third party access to messages. In the absence of a policy, or a disclaimer, she should assume that email communications are private and that monitoring would be considered unethical.
Email is convenient and accessible and teachers use it frequently. Many organizations have a policy on the employer's right to monitor email. Any such policy includes the circumstances under which third party access is permitted. Employees should be aware of all policies. Be aware that whoever operates the email system has a right to control the system and establish codes of conduct, ethical standards and other operating policies to which users must adhere. For example, some employers require that employees use the system for business related communications only.
Messages can sometimes be misread, especially in communications between teachers and parents, and teachers and students. Sensitive information should always be delivered directly to parents to avoid misunderstanding. When communicating with students, teachers should always be professional and take particular care to maintain appropriate boundaries. Always use proper sentence structure, spelling, and grammar.
Codes of conduct also apply to the internet. Teachers should be very careful about the internet sites they access through the employer's system.