Now more than ever employers must have a clear and concise policy regarding work email accounts. While it is commonly understood that an employee’s work email is property of the employer and subject to search at any time, it is important to inform employees of this. A recent case, Hoofnagle v. Smyth-Wythe Airport Commission out of the Western District of Virginia, demonstrates the importance of a clear policy on email accounts.
Hoofnagel was the manager of a small, local airport who was fired for his use of an email account he used both personally and for business to write an impassioned and volatile email to U.S. Senator Tim Kaine. The manager’s email came in the wake of the Newtown school shooting tragedy and vehemently defended gun rights. The airport did not have its own email system, or a written policy addressing the use of email and accompanying expectations. The manager created the email account when he started there and the airport published the address as an official point of contact. Further complicating the matter, the manager signed the email with his name and position. Shortly thereafter, the airport commission voted to terminate the manager and he filed suit. After the airport terminated the manager, it began going through his emails to check for airport business.
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