A recent case from the New Jersey Superior Court should make any employee who has ever used a work computer to send or receive email from an attorney a little nervous. In Stengart v. Loving Care Ag. Inc., No. BER-L-858-08 (Feb. 5, 2009), the Court held that the attorney-client privilege did not apply to emails between an employee/plaintiff and her lawyer which were accessed on the employee’s work computer — despite the fact that the emails were accessed through a personal, password-protected email account. The Court thus permitted the company to use the employee’s emails to and from her attorney to defend against her discrimination claims.
As reported by the law firm of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, the Court based its decision on the fact that the employer had a published electronic communication policy which “adequately warned employees that there [was] no reasonable expectation of privacy” with respect to any emails generated or viewed on company issued computers, and the fact that the employee was aware of the policy.
This decision reminds us that any time you contact your lawyer from your work computer, you run the risk of exposing the communication to your employer or other third parties. This situation is particularly dangerous for employees who are engaged in litigation with their current employers, although it applies to everyone. If you must communicate with your lawyer during the work day, the most prudent thing to do is to step outside the office and make a telephone call. Save the emails for when you get home from work.