In Canada, case law considers office computers a production tool under the responsibility of employers, who therefore have the right of control over all employee files and e-mails. Other countries are still debating the issue, however.
All Canadian companies can determine their own standards as regards privacy at work. In particular, management can forbid the use of computers for personal e-mails at work. In the event of messages that are disrespectful or that hinder productivity, employers can even fire employees. The courts often rule against employees in such cases, because they make a clear distinction between the workplace and privacy. There are legislative differences between the provinces, however.
In addition, some types of information is protected by the federal Privacy Act. For example, e-mail in the federal public service cannot be used for commercial purposes.
In other countries, such as France, the law protects employee privacy rights, and employers are not allowed to monitor employee e-mail. According to jurisprudence, employees are entitled to privacy even if they use a work e-mail address.
The issue is currently the focus of scrutiny in Israel, where a new collective agreement authorizes employers to read their employees’ personal e-mail. To do so, however, they must have a valid reason for suspecting their employees of disloyal acts using a company computer. Civil rights associations have already voiced their disagreement and objection to this new agreement that they say infringes on employee privacy.