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Employee E-mail and Internet Usage Under the Privacy Act: The Need for Transparent Policies

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Increasing technological capabilities have undoubtedly assisted businesses. They have also, however, allowed employers to monitor and track an employee’s e-mail and internet usage carefully. All employers may not be required to abide by the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth), however, best practice suggests that employers should disclose to employees what sort of information he or she is collecting and when a business will be prompted to access this information. A business can use the monitoring of an employee’s internet and e-mail usage for various purposes, but employers need to ensure that they respect an employee’s privacy.

Workplace Policy

For a business to avoid any disputes relating to the access of an employee’s Internet and e-mail usage, the business should have a clear workplace policy that addresses the following issues:

  • appropriate usage of the Internet or e-mail in the workplace environment;
  • prohibited usage of the Internet or e-mail in the workplace environment;
  • details of the employees who may be able to collect employee data relating to internet and e-mail usage;
  • details of the monitoring and auditing process; and
  • penalties relating to the misuse or breach of the workplace policies.

Employee Handbook

If an employer develops a workplace policy that allows for access to an employee’s Internet and e-mail usage, the employee should be aware of what information he or she is collecting and under what circumstances the business can access it. 

An Employee Handbook usually outlines how an employee should behave online as it often includes clauses relating to internet and e-mail usage. When it comes to online privacy, the Employee Handbook should include details such as:

  • the activities that are considered legitimate when using the Internet or e-mail in the workplace,
  • the consequences relating to improper use of the Internet and e-mail in the workplace and,
  • the employee’s ability to be involved in the process of developing the workplace policy.

Employees are often not aware of the level of access an employer has to their e-mail or internet usage. The key is to ensure transparency of the workplace policies, particularly when it comes to monitoring and access.

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Although workplace policies and an employee handbook can help to minimise disputes relating to privacy, this is an evolving area of law. As an employer, you will need to balance your business’ interests with your employee’s right to privacy. If you are unsure of your obligations when accessing details of your employees’ online usage, contact one of LegalVision’s experienced employment lawyers – we would be delighted to assist you and answer any of your questions.

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Kristine Biason

Kristine Biason

Practice Leader

Kristine is a Practice Leader in LegalVision’s Commercial Contracts team. She drafts and negotiates commercial contracts, in particular, supply, distribution and manufacturing agreements used internationally. She also assists clients with their information technology agreements, often aiding clients on their business journey by determining the relevant agreements needed for their business, whether that be a SaaS agreement, reseller agreement or a managed services agreement. She has previously worked in the Franchising team and has provided clients with advice on setting up franchises and purchasing franchises.

Qualifications: Bachelor of Laws, Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice, Bachelor of Media, Macquarie University.

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