Ok so I have left my email logged in at work. I already understand that whatever I do they can see. That's not a problem. What has happened twice now was management going through the accounts. Looking for things. Anything personal they find they don't like they bring it to my attention. Not just emails that were opened and visable on the work computer. But things buried deep in my account they never would of seen. Isn't this illegal? The computer is theirs. But the account is mine. I feel this is the same as a bag of purse. I can leave it on company property but they cant go through it just because it's there. They would need a reason. A probable cause. Or even a warrant if things got really hairy. Am I wrong?

  • 6
    If they have already accessed your email a number of times, why do you insist on opening your email at work? Just log off, change your password, and be done with. "I can leave it on company property but they cant go through it just because it's there." Why not? I am sure they can find plenty of "reasons", and that is assuming one is necessary.
    – Masked Man
    Apr 23 '17 at 8:19
  • It was an accident. I have permission to access my personal email from work. Your right maybe they could find a reason but offered no reason other than its there.
    – PsychDaddy
    Apr 23 '17 at 8:47
  • How do you access your email? Through a web browser like GMail or as a configured account in Outlook or Thunderbird? The difference is whether the messages are stored locally or not. Apr 23 '17 at 12:09
  • I've put your question on hold since right now it's difficult to say what you're actually asking. If you simply want an answer to "Can my employer legally go through my personal email account?" then *perhaps that's on-topic here but it's arguably a question for Law. "*How can I ask them to mind their own business?" would be more of a workplace question. And while IANAL applies, you should realise that warrants and probable cause only apply to police, not your management.
    – Lilienthal
    Apr 23 '17 at 12:58
  • This issue of whether or not employers "can", "should", or "do" access content on personal email accounts never gets a thorough treatment anywhere. There's a lot to consider here and very few people know the full picture and those that do don't seem talk about it with clarity. HTTPS traffic can be unencrypted, for example, if the employer has configured the computer to go through their own certificate authority. How often this is done, how things get stored, and who gets access is hardly ever discussed but potentially impacts a lot of people.
    – teego1967
    Apr 23 '17 at 14:27

Ethically, you are right. Your personal business is your personal business, as long as it doesn't interfere with your ability to do your job. In no case is it OK for management to use your personal, unrelated to the job information to bully you.

In terms of law, it depends on the jurisdiction and you'd better consult a lawyer.

Legal or not, you should reconsider if you want to work for a company that needs to follow such practices. If you need the job but don't want them to access your personal accounts, better don't use them from work computers and on the company network.

You could check your email from your smartphone, using your own data plan. In any case, you should set up 2-factor authentication for your account and always make sure you've logged out of it when you don't need access.

  • +1, I think it is illegal however I'm not a lawyer and not in the US. Consult legal guidance on this.
    – user66194
    Apr 23 '17 at 8:57
  • @DanielJames I'm not so sure about that. Yes, there's such a thing as invasion of privacy, but there's also such a thing as "in plain sight," whereby evidence left in an easily accessible area can be taken/examined without a warrant or permission, etc. Leaving a personal email account logged in on a computer that you know multiple people have access to may well qualify as being in plain sight. IANAL, of course.
    – Steve-O
    Apr 23 '17 at 12:25

Data loss prevention is something which most of the companies struggle with. Hence, the fact that your email is left open on their computer could be probable cause enough to check for data loss and look into it. (That may or may not have been their real motive but they can surely argue that.)

Just extending your purse analogy, if they felt that they are losing office stationary, then they can argue that they looked into a bag which was left there overnight. (Legal or not is a different issue and like others mentioned check with a lawyer)

You did not specify what other kind of personal stuff they go through other than email so difficult to comment on that.

Even if you are allowed to check personal emails from office machines, use your personal smart phone for it. I do not think you need to set any extra security or log off after you are done. (At least not for preventing your employer to read your emails!). Your phone is password protected and it will always be with you !


Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .