People often use their work e-mails for outside work purposes. People may also use their work email accounts to send jokes to colleagues. This can, however, be the source of problems for employees.

Recently the Mayor of Diamantina Shire Council in Queensland was forced to apologise for sending inappropriate e-mails and photographs that were discovered by IT staff.

If you are using your employer’s email system or the account of a company entity you are contracted to, be aware the emails you send belong to the company. What’s more the inappropriate or excessive use of company e-mail and phones are common reasons for dismissal or disciplinary actions against employees.

Most company e-mail policies allow limited personal use. However this should be kept to a minimum. Employees can be disciplined for excessive use. It is prudent for employees to have their own e-mail addresses /accounts for personal matters. Personal e-mails using company email/addresses and accounts should really only be used in exceptional circumstances, for example when an issue with a family member arises.

Whenever you send an e-mail always keep in mind the business or organisation that employs you can read them.

NSW Legislation

In NSW, there are laws which place restrictions on employers’ surveillance of e-mail, internet and computer usage. Section 10 of the Workplace Surveillance Act states, states that “14 days notice is required of employees that computers can be monitored.”

Despite this, employers can develop a policy which notifies employees of the fact that the company can monitor their computer usage. They have to take reasonable steps to ensure that employees understand and the policy.

A prudent employer would conduct training with their employees notifying them about their policies on the use of emails, mobile phones and the like, informing them of the potential for their emails may be the subject of surveillance, as well as notifying them of any consequences for non-compliance.

For employees it is important, whatever the level of notification, to be mindful of e-mails sent and computer usage. They should keep non-work related use to minimum and not send anything or utilise websites, which are potentially offensive or in some way in breach of workplace policy.

Tracking An Employee

The process of tracking an employee can only be carried out if there is a notice clearly visible on the vehicle or other thing indicating that the vehicle is subject to tracking surveillance.

Camera Surveillance

Camera surveillance can only take place if cameras are clearly visible at each entrance to the workplace and employees are made aware that surveillance cameras are in use.

Illegal Surveillance

Surveillance is prohibited in any toilet, change room or shower. It is also illegal for an employer to track an employee when they are not at work.

Covert Surveillance

Covert surveillance needs to be approved by the Covert Surveillance Authority. Such surveillance can only be used for the purposes of establishing whether or an employee is involved in unlawful activities.


Employees should always be careful when they use office equipment to send e-mails or when accessing the internet. They should also be careful when using their office e-mail address to send personal e-mails, even if it is from a personal device and/ or in their own time.

Employees should always assume any e-mail they send or website they visit can be viewed by their employer. It is easy for employees to forget they are using their employer’s property. Despite this employees can still be disciplined for inappropriate use.

Nevertheless there are limits on surveillance. Employers need to have policies in place and employees should be aware of them. If employers’ practice surveillance on their employees unlawfully, they can be prosecuted.

If you have any workplace surveillance concerns, contact our Employment Law Specialists today.