Signs That an Employer Checks Your Email
It might not be your imagination. Employers legally can and do monitor all electronic communications in the workplace, including email and Internet use. Although employers will typically notify you of their electronic communications policies at the time of hire, they do not have to, and it is very easy to forget that many employers monitor your email activity.
In addition to checking that you are not using too much work time for personal communications, employers want to ensure that you are being loyal and not disclosing any confidential company information. There are some ways you can become more aware of when/how employers are monitoring your email.
How They Do It
Companies use a variety of methods for tracking employee email activity. Most utilize software that is loaded on each computer throughout the network. Commonly used programs include Websense and Spector Pro, but there are many others. These programs allow employers to monitor all program activity at the work station, including email and the Internet.
Aside from technology, your manager may be using old-fashioned observation to determine if you are using your email for purposes other than conducting company business. They may be paying attention to the screen when they come up behind or next to you, before you have a chance to minimize.
How You Know
Always assume that, unless you are using encrypted email, your employer is monitoring you. Before you send an email think about whether you would be comfortable with your manager reading it. If not, don’t send it. If you install an anti-spyware on your work station, you may be able to scan for the monitoring software your employer has installed.
However, your employer may not allow you to install your own anti-spyware or they may have set up your firewall in such a way as to not allow detection of the monitoring software by an anti-spyware program. You may also view all programs and applications that are running at your work station by hitting control-alt-delete and looking at your Task Manager. If you know the name of the monitoring software, you may be able to see it running.
If you really want to know if your email is being monitored, ask your employer. Most will give you an honest answer to avoid any legal complications in the future by not fully disclosing if they are monitoring you. They may simply ask you to review company policy, where you will find the written disclosure.
Signs to Watch For
If your computer screen locks or you see other signs that someone else is logged into your computer remotely (for example, your mouse begins moving without your direction), you are most likely being monitored by IT. You may also see an icon in your systems tray at the bottom right of your screen blink or change color.
If IT has recently updated your programs, go to your Start Menu, Programs and check to see what has recently been installed. Do a Google search on any programs you do not recognize to determine if they are capable of email/Internet monitoring.
Pay close attention to verbal and nonverbal feedback you are getting from your manager and co-workers. If you hear rumblings around the office about email monitoring, be highly aware of what you are sending.
If your manager seems disapproving when they believe you are using email for personal use, avoid doing so. You should have some indication of the culture of your office and how much wiggle room they allow in their email use policy–but always be conservative in your use and, instead, use your personal email for personal communications.