Almost everyone has one these days; in fact some people have more than one. What you ask, an e-mail address, of course. Most businesses/employers provide employees with a work e-mail address as a matter of convenience to assist with getting work done. Maybe it is obvious to some employees who the owner of the business e-mail address is, but I guess not to everyone.
Yesterday, administrators at Harvard University issued an apology to 16 resident deans whose official e-mail accounts were secretly searched over the weekend in an attempt to identify the source of a leaked document relating to a student cheating scandal discovered on campus last year. The University was conducting an investigation to determine how a confidential document which was sent to the resident deans ended up in the hands of the college paper. Many faculty members at Harvard see the Administration’s actions as a breach of privacy. From an employer perspective, what Harvard Administration did was completely reasonable, and I don’t think Harvard Administrators needed to apologize for their actions.
When conducting an investigation, especially into a computer/technology issue you don’t want to give an employee the opportunity to delete or alter evidence, so the search should be done discreetly. Additionally, Harvard first invited the deans to come forward with information about what happened, and this yielded no insights into the matter. The next step was to have the IT department conduct a narrow, careful, and precise search of the subject field of e-mails to determine who forwarded the e-mail with the confidential document. Prior to proceeding with the search of the e-mails, Harvard administrators consulted with Dean Evelynn Hammonds and legal counsel, Robert Iuliano, both of whom approved the limited e-mail search. At the conclusion of its investigation, Harvard determined the release of the confidential document was inadvertent.
Employees need to be aware it is the Employer who owns work e-mail addresses, and therefore any e-mails generated from a work e-mail address. We advise our Employer clients to have a technology use policy which notifies employees they are not entitled to privacy on any e-mails or communications they send or receive on the Employer’s technology. I have blogged in the past about who is the “owner” of business social media accounts. Here Harvard University conducted a limited investigation into the professional e-mail accounts of a select group of employees. Harvard has no reason to apologize.