Attorney-Client Privilege? Not at Work.

Before writing an email to your attorney, think twice about the repercussions. First of all, as everyone should know by now, once something is released into cyberspace, it’s in cyberspace forever. This includes text messages, chats, emails, pictures, social media conversations, video, and etc. Second, the majority of our time is spent working for a business; and if it’s a job where we access business resources, recognize that these resources are regulated and controlled by…? The business owners, employers, managers, etc.

On Thursday, Sacramento Third Appellate District court ruled that attorney-client privilege is no longer sacrosanct if the communication was between the two parties from the client’s work email address. The decision was unanimous. This means that if you’re going to sue anyone–and especially your employer–do not communicate with an attorney using company resources. The company has the right, because they own the communication device, to use it against you in a court of law.

The ruling basically stated that any messages from client to lawyer were actually conducted under as if the attorney and client were in a conference room with corporate attorneys. In fact, as our world becomes more “open” by technology, companies are forced exert control and keep assets guarded, both legally and electronically.

Similarly, in NJ, the Supreme Court ruled that while email messages were privileged from personal email accounts accessed with work equipment, it was contingent on the fact that use of corporate computers to access personal accounts was not stipulated under a company policy. In other words, if there’s a company rule that states accessing private accounts gives the company access to your communication because it was done on “company time using company resources,” the company can access your communication.

Other cases in the US show that electronic privacy laws are changing, but not always for the best; in Chicago, recording police officers or government employees without their knowledge is against the law. Another court case involving text messages ruled that police officers using work equipment had no right to expect privacy.

The recent, CA case came to light when a secretary filed suit against her employer because, she claimed, they became hostile when she told the employer she was pregnant. The company for which she worked introduced emails at trial to bolster the company’s defense and show that the “victim” was not under emotional distress, but merely frustrated, annoyed, and angry. According to the emails, the woman filed suit because her attorney suggested she do so.

The company won the case, and the woman appealed, claiming her emails were private. The court did not agree.

According to the ruling, the email was not confidential because her employer had a written policy stating email could be audited at any time. The fact that the woman used company email for a private purpose–despite the warning that audits were conducted–left her without legal recourse.