NOPD Policy 212 makes it clear that employees of the New Orleans Police Department have NO EXPECTATION OF PRIVACY when using their employer provided email account. This is generally a true statement whether the policy says so or not. It is also generally a true statement regardless of your employer. Do not send anything over your employer’s email system that you do not want someone else to easily have access to.
As an attorney who represents police officers and other types of employees, my clients enjoy privileged communication with regard to legal matters. However, if those communications are made using your employer’s email, you will likely waive that privilege because you clearly have no expectation of privacy using your employer’s email network.
You may read this and wonder who doesn’t have a Gmail, Yahoo, or Microsoft email account. They are free, right? I am here to tell you that there are plenty of people who rely upon their employer provided email account for all of their email communication. If you are one of those people, I am not asking you to identify yourself, just please go to Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, or one of the other free email providers and get an email address you can call your own.
One more note about email. If you send an email from your personal email account to someone with a departmental email address, that email belongs to the department. If you cc someone or reply all, you could be giving the department the email. If it is a privileged communication, cc, bcc, reply all, or forwarding the email will likely constitute a waiver of any privilege you may have otherwise had.
Employer issued phones, tablets, and computers suffer the same privacy issues for employees. NOPD Policy 702.3 states:
Any employee utilizing any computer, internet service, telephone service or other wireless service provided by or funded by the Department acknowledges and agrees that the use of such service, whether for business or personal use, shall remove any expectation of privacy the employee, sender and recipient of any communications utilizing such services might otherwise have, including the content of any such communications.
If you engage in privileged communication utilizing a department device, you will destroy that privilege. You must assume that any communication using a department owned device is being logged and stored forever.
You might think to yourself that surely people know this. Recently, I had a disciplinary case where part of the evidence used to sustain the complaint came from MDT to MDT chat. DO NOT USE MDT TO MDT CHAT FOR ANYTHING OTHER THAN WORK RELATED COMMUNICATION. Do not use any communication device or method provided by the department for any other purpose than work unless it is a true emergency.
Also note in the quoted section above from NOPD policy 702.2 that the statement applies to devices funded by the Department. There has been talk for some time of the Department paying a portion of employees’ mobile phone bills in lieu of Department issued phones. As soon as you let them pay for your mobile phone, you will be waiving any expectation of privacy you may have on that device.
Recently, the City has required people who want to get their Departmental email on their personal mobile phones or tablets to allow the IT folks to hook the device into the City servers. This again blurs the line between what is yours and theirs.
In short, what is yours is yours. What is yours and theirs is theirs. What is theirs is theirs. Separate your work from your personal life. There is no need to allow your employer to read your text messages with your spouse about your need for milk, how much fun the party will be, or what you planning on doing after the party. Your naked selfies will not belong to you.
For additional information, click here.
I know of several key employees who use their department owned computers to send e-mails which are unrelated to their department jobs. I’ve informed them that if they continue they could be written up for doing personal work on company time. Can this happen and has it happened to any employees and if so what were the consequences?
I would imagine you could get written up for using the city email for your personal business. Policy 212 says “Messages transmitted over the e-mail system must only be those that involve official business activities or that contain information essential to employees for the accomplishment of tasks and/or communications directly related to the business, administration or practices of the Department.” It isn’t the strongest language and in 212.3, the only prohibition specifically mentioned is that you can’t use the email for personal advertisements or announcements.
So, whether it would be sustained and result in a penalty would be a fact specific question. I will say that if you were literally running a business using the city email and company time, that would get much closer to violating the law prohibiting public payroll fraud.