Your business’ email marketing and general email activity can be your largest sales driver. Therefore, some business owners debate whether to monitor their employees’ email accounts in order to identify how and when to improve email strategy. However, you can’t just start peaking into your employees’ emails. The practice of monitoring email must be implemented in a very transparent and sensitive way.

Here’s a guide to walk you through everything you should know about monitoring email within your small business.

The Basics of Work Email Accounts

Let’s start by establishing that work e-mail is not private, therefore, it shouldn’t be used as one. Meaning employees shouldn’t use it to subscribe to newsletters and websites that aren’t relevant to their jobs, for online shopping, social media, etc.  If we’re talking tracking private emails on work equipment, it’s a whole other thing. But let’s start by answering the question: “Is e-mail monitoring even legal?”

Is E-mail Monitoring Legal?

Basically, it is. But the laws in your employee’s country might be different, so be sure to double check the process with your attorneys. Each country has different regulations, and in some of them you might only need to notify the employee about the monitoring. While others could require written consent for these activities.

In any case, there are three basic principles you should follow if you’re planning on monitoring your employee’s emails:

  1. Transparency – Always notify your employees that you will be monitoring them. Set up a policy and share it with existing and new employees. This policy should include all details about the monitoring, such as: what is being monitored, how, who has access to the data, what will you use the data for, etc.
  2. Legitimacy – Make sure you have a legitimate reason to monitor your employees. It is okay to keep your best interests in place, as long as they don’t go against employees’ fundamental rights.
  3. Proportionality – Only collect the data you need to collect. Don’t go overboard with collecting every piece of data along the way. Collect what is relevant to your organization.

Make sure you understand that there is a big difference between monitoring your employees’ work email accounts versus monitoring your employees’ personal e-mail accounts that they access on company equipment. Generally, the latter is allowed if your employees signed a consent that everything they do on work computers is being monitored. But there are still lots of legal grey areas when it comes to employee privacy rights. 

How Can You Monitor Employees’ E-mails?

There is software which tracks employee e-mails, but it is questionable to what extent you want to do it. Most e-mail clients with admin access will allow you (or your IT team) to check up on someone’s e-mails, and this should be enough.

However, if it isn’t, you can always go ahead and purchase an employee monitoring software which can take screenshots and measure time spent in various apps.

E-mail Monitoring – Best Practices

There are laws and regulations you must follow when monitoring employee e-mails. However, there are also some ethical guidelines you should follow, which is why we created this brief list of best practices for employee e-mail monitoring:

  • Be mindful of the law – consult with lawyers to make sure you are acting according to all applicable laws and regulations.
  • Know the difference between monitoring and interception – In general, monitoring happens after the e-mail was already sent/received; while interception happens before e-mail reaches the receiver.
  • Create a written e-mail policy – Try including release forms into these policies. All employees must be notified of your monitoring practices, and you need to have proof that everyone was aware of them.
  • Limit access – Not everyone in your organization needs to have access to monitored e-mails. The information should be guarded and limited only to a few key people who have legitimate reasons to have access to such data.

In Conclusion

E-mail monitoring and employee monitoring, in general, aren’t bad things if used in an ethical way. Businesses need to balance their data needs with their employees’ rights. Never violate the fundamental rights of your employees because you want to have access to each piece of data that comes through your company. 

Maintaining transparency is crucial for preserving a good, respectful relationship with your team, keep that in mind before you introduce any policies or tools that might invade their privacy.

Bojana Djordjevic is a Content Writer at Workpuls, with a background in marketing and journalism. She enjoys writing about productivity, remote work, and marketing.