My personal email account was hacked at work. What case do I have?

The information I sent to another employee using my personal email was screen shot and anonymously sent to my Director. I am now being disciplined because of the content of what was sent.

Rita Risser replies:

If someone actually hacked into your email, that is a violation of federal law. 18 U.S. Code § 2701 – Unlawful access to stored communications makes it a criminal offense to access someone else’s email. You might also be able to sue personally for whatever damage to you was caused by the illegal activity.

But you would need to be able to prove that your email was actually hacked. For example, if the screen shot was taken off your computer screen while you were away from your desk, or from your co-worker’s screen, that is not hacking. In addition, if your employer happened to be the one that went into its own system and found your personal email, that is not illegal because the system belongs to your employer.

Finally, even if the email was obtained legally, an employer cannot discipline an employee for everything they might put in an email. For example, if you revealed to your co-worker that you are pregnant, and then you were fired for being pregnant, that would be illegal.

If you are concerned about this situation, it may be best to talk to a local attorney.

Posted 07-12-2016

Information here is correct at the time it is posted. Case decisions cited here may be reversed. Please do not rely on this information without consulting an attorney first.


About the Author:

Rita M. Risser Chai is the founder of Fair Measures. An attorney in California for 20 years and now an attorney in Hawaii, she authored the Prentice Hall book, Stay Out of Court! The Manager’s Guide to Preventing Employee Lawsuits. She developed most of the curriculum used by Fair Measures, created the firm’s first website praised in HR Magazine, and wrote numerous articles on employment law including one on best practice harassment prevention training published in the magazine of the American Society for Training and Development (now ATD). She taught Law and Human Resources at the University of California, Santa Cruz, for eight years, and has presented four times at the annual conventions of the Hawaii Society of Human Resource Management.