Employees’ privacy rights. They’re everywhere. Lately, they’ve been in the KYW-3 TV Newsroom. Two former Philadelphia co-anchors have put e-mail privacy in the spotlight. Larry Mendte, who is accused of reading and leaking Alycia Lane’s private e-mail account, was fired today. His termination comes in the middle of a federal investigation, which involved a raid of Mendte’s home and office and the removal of “computer equipment,” and follows just days after Lane filed her long-threatened suit against their shared former employer.
This scandal is a big deal in the Philadelphia local news. And perhaps that has something to do with the fact that Lane had lost her sugary-sweet charm after the third or fourth scandal. Or maybe it’s because Philly is known equally just as much for relentlessly jeering unpopular sports figures as it is for brotherly love. But maybe it’s because this is a story that so many people already know. They’ve lived it themselves.
Mendte is suspected of accessing Lane’s account “possibly hundreds of times” and then leaking the information to their boss, the news station, or the press.
So what happens to Mendte if it’s later found out that he did secretly sabotage his former partner at the news desk? Not much. Mendte isn’t a supervisor so, unless the station is found to have known about the snooping or somehow endorsing it, the station will not be held responsible for the acts of Mendte. Obviously, losing his long-time job, where he spent many years enjoying the favor of Philadelphians, is a big deal and probably one of the most severe consequences he could face.
And Lane could certainly sue Mendte, as well as the station. It’s unlikely that she will, though, given the low value of any possible recovery for privacy claims brought against an individual, as opposed to an employer.
But the real question is not who will be victorious in the media or in the courtroom. The real question is whether your organization faces similar risks to the potential espionage of trade secrets and confidential information or to a Jerks-at-Work campaign where a bully secretly accesses a target-coworkers’ emails with bad intentions.
What safeguards do you have in place to automatically monitor technology use of company computers?
What policies do you utilize to ensure employees’ data is protected with regular password changes and by communicating that an employee who shares her password with another may be subject to serious discipline?
What about the specifics of what an employee may and may not take from the workplace, which includes sending it out of the organization and into the world wide web? Have you expressly told employees about the consequences of such action? Do you know what the consequences are?
Take the Mendte-Lane debacle as a cue for you to review your policies, practices, and how those messages are communicated to employees.
Michael Klein and John Shiffman at the Philadelphia Inquirer, have more on this story.
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