Workplace privacy

What you need to know about checking your employees’ emails

Some may think that, as a manager, it is your responsibility to keep tabs on what your employees are using the various electronic communication channels at work for. Despite these good intentions to be proactive about your staff’s use of company resources, there are some points to consider before screening employee emails.

The laws around workplace privacy

There are several acts that have been passed in the last few years regarding the acquisition and distribution of personal information in South Africa, but they have predominantly dealt with the users of this information intending to use it maliciously. RICA, or the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-Related Information Act, was put in place to regulate the monitoring of all direct and indirect communications, including telephonic and email communications.

Challenges employers face with workplace privacy legislation

An issue that many employers are finding with the act is that it can, at times, be very vague. For example, section 6 seems to allow for the monitoring of employee communication, however the phrasing used does not clarify when this is appropriate

According to the act, the only real way employers can legally access employees’ electronic communication is via written consent (the person in question knows they are being monitored) or if the communication has been made public (which, by definition, is no longer private). The problem with the former is that people involved in illegal activities or who are behaving in a way their employer would not approve of are unlikely to consent to being monitored – this can also tip them off that their behaviour has been noticed, which may cause them to change their means of communication to something more private. Furthermore, once communication has become public, it is usually after the fact, in which case the actions of the employers would be reactive, not proactive.

Do these protections acts actually help?

While the various legislations do seem to protect employees from potential invasion of privacy and unfair targeting by their superiors, it also does very little to provide employers with a legitimate method of catching employees using company communication channels for activities that are against policy.

Follow the link if you’d like to read more about RICA:

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