Can I read my employees’ e-mails? Labor and employment attorneys get this question often. It’s not as common, though, that the possible cyber-sleuth is a co-worker rather than a member of management. Recent drama at the news desk of Philadelphia’s CBS 3 fits this unusual profile.
The First of the Fallen Anchors
Long-time CBS news anchor, Larry Mendte, is under federal investigation. He is suspected of reading the e-mails of former co-anchor, Alycia Lane. After Lane was involved in several scandals of her own, her employment contract was terminated after she allegedly assaulted a plain-clothes police officer in New York City, and using a homophobic slur. See my earlier post, Bad Boys, Bad Boys, Whatcha’ Gonna Do When They Work for You?, for more details on the Alycia Lane scandal.
The Cyber-Scandal Spreads
And now attention has been turned to Lane’s former colleague, Larry Mendte. Late last week, Mendte and CBS News learned that he was being being investigated for snooping through Lane’s e-mail. Reading others’ e-mails without permission or privilege is a federal crime. (Last week we discussed Delaware’s state law, which requires employers to provide written notice of their intent to monitor employees’ e-mails. See Employers’ Policies on Technology in the Workplace).
Mendte’s home computer was seized by the FBI as part of the probate. CBS 3 issued the following statement yesterday:
Late last week, CBS 3 became aware of an investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office regarding anchor Larry Mendte. CBS 3 is cooperating fully with that office in this matter. Mr. Mendte will not be on CBS 3’s broadcasts pending further investigation.
While the investigation is ongoing, Mendte has been dethroned. It doesn’t seem so positive. Mendte’s lawyer said yesterday, “We hope to work together with CBS 3 to reach a mutually agreeable resolution as to his status.”
That does not sound good.
Get Consent to Monitor Employees’ E-Mails or Risk a Mendte-Style Result
Let this be a word of warning to any employer who may be inclined to search their employees’ e-mails without complying with state and federal notice requirements. Cyber-sleuthing has serious consequences.
And if you learn that another employee has been snooping through a co-workers electronic data, including e-mails, act quickly and seriously. Take a page from CBS 3 and consider suspending the employee until your investigation is complete.