Why You Shouldn't Use Company Computers for Personal Email

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Employers, especially in the U.S., can get into costly trouble over email — including private messages sent by employees using company computers and network.

That's why many companies monitor everything you do on your work computer — and how you communicate in particular. Not only are certain websites filtered out and your other web activity checked minutely; all the emails you send and receive are scanned as well. Routinely, but especially if any legal problems can be foreseen, all mail is archived and cataloged.

Can you get fired for misusing work email? Yes. More than 1 out of every 4 U.S. companies canceled employment contracts for misusing email according to an AMA/ePolicy Institute survey.

How to Stay Private At Work

Since it's likely your company watches your every keystroke, you should as well.

  • Do not use your company computers, email account and outgoing mail server for private emails.
  • If you have your work email account set up at home, use a separate account for private messages. Make sure that private accounts use a different outgoing (SMTP) server (typically your internet service provider's) to send mail.
  • Free email services are reasonably private. Don't use them on company computers or the company network (say, Wi-Fi) for private mail, though.
  • You can't expect any privacy for mail that touches company infrastructure: computers, wired or wireless networks, or email (SMTP, IMAP, POP, Exchange, Notes) servers.

Outside the U.S., email privacy at work may be different. In EU countries, for example, the situation is almost the opposite: companies can get in trouble monitoring employee communication. Do not rely on that, though!