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An employee who used her employer’s computer system to email with her personal attorney about her potential claims against the employer, has been found to have no reasonable expectation of privacy in those personal emails under the employer’s company-wide computer-use policy.  She had been told of the company’s policy that its computers were to be used only for company business, and that employees were prohibited from using them to send or receive personal email.  She had been warned that the company would monitor its computers for compliance and might inspect all files and messages at any time, and she had been explicitly informed that employees using company computers for personal information or messages “have no right of privacy with respect to that information or message.”

The California Court of Appeal likened the employee’s use of the computer system for personal attorney-client communications, under the circumstances, as “akin to consulting her lawyer in her employer’s conference room, in a loud voice, with the door open, so that any reasonable person would expect that their discussion of her complaints about her employer would be overheard” by the employer.  Because the employee did not conduct her attorney-client communications in a confidential manner, those communications were found to be not confidential, and thus unprotected by attorney-client privilege (California Evidence Code Section 952).  This allowed her attorney-client email communications to be introduced as evidence at trial by her employer.  (Holmes v. Petrovich Development Company, LLC, California Court of Appeal No. C059133, January 13, 2011)

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