Manager is justified in tapping into employee’s e-mail account

An employee at Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) complained that his manager improperly accessed both his government e-mail and his personal Yahoo account in a bid to find cause to fire him.

Department officials stated they had not searched the employee’s personal e-mail account but confirmed they had searched his government e-mail account. This was done, they said, after they came across a copy of an e-mail – addressed to one of the department’s international clients – in which the employee made malicious references to the manager.

Concerned the employee may have sent other similar e-mail messages to clients, Natural Resources Canada officials searched the employee’s government e-mail account. Several e-mails containing derogatory comments about supervisors were discovered.

NRCan concluded these e-mail messages were defamatory and spread false allegations and rumours that could harm the professional reputation of branch directors. It also found they undermined the manager’s authority and constituted an inappropriate use of the government’s electronic networks.

The federal government’s policy on the use of electronic networks states e-mail is primarily a communication tool provided to employees for conducting official government business. The policy also prohibits unlawful activities, including defamation. The NRCan e-mail policy is available to all employees on the department’s intranet site. Employees are given an electronic reminder when they log on to the network that they can be monitored for work-related purposes.

The complainant’s e-mails were thought to be defamatory and therefore, in breach of government policy. The policy states that if an institution reasonably suspects an authorized individual is misusing the network, it must refer the matter for further investigation.

The complaint was not well-founded. The OPC concluded the employee had enough information to help him make an informed decision about the proper use of the department’s e-mail system. It was the supervisor’s duty to conduct an investigation and gather supporting documentation into what was considered workplace misconduct.

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