If an employer provides computers to employees, does the employer need to notify employees before searching the computer?

Author: Shannon C. Johnson

No. Employees have a very limited right to privacy in the workplace. In fact, pursuant to the provider exception of the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), an employer-provided computer system is the property of the employer. As such, an employer should have a policy in place that addresses employee computer use and use of the employer's electronic and communications networks.

The policy should notify employees that all information stored or viewed on employer-provided computers or received via the employer's email system belongs to the employer and may be accessed, searched and reviewed by the employer at any time for any legitimate purpose that is carried out during the normal course of the employer's business. Employees should be instructed that they have no reasonable expectation of privacy when using an employer-provided computer. An employer should be aware that some collective bargaining agreements or state laws may limit the ability to monitor employee computer use or require the employer to notify employees that computer use is subject to monitoring.