A study of individuals' ethical beliefs and perceptions of electronic mail privacy

Journal of Business Ethics 14 (10):819 - 827 (1995)
While electronic mail has enjoyed rapid growth in the workplace, many companies have failed to establish clear expectations among employees about their e-mail privacy rights. This has resulted in controversy and even lawsuits against employers where employees later learned that management personnel monitored or read their electronic communications. It has been speculated that most employees underestimate the legal right of their employer to engage in e-mail monitoring activities. However, this issue has been virtually unexplored from a research perspective. Consequently, the purpose of this study is to assess individuals'' ethical beliefs and perceptions about electronic mail privacy. This study of more than 200 e-mail users reveals that there is significant resistance to e-mail monitoring, and that many individuals have a relatively poor understanding of their e-mail privacy rights. The results also suggest that companies need to develop and communicate a policy to employees that addresses this issue. Finally, this study suggests several possibilities for further research. Building a greater body of knowledge of this domain should assist business leaders and lawmakers as they work to formulate an effective response to this workplace challenge that will equitably balance the rights of employees and employers.
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