Nowadays, an e-mail account is set up for almost every employee.
However, legal questions often arise in connection with these e-mail accounts, which will be answered briefly below.
Are e-mails sent to the company address secret?
According to the Austrian Data Protection Authority, in a first step it depends on whether the private use of the business address is expressly permitted, as there is no legal regulation for this case. In a recent decision, the DPA then stated that the employer has the right to inspect the e-mails of the (former) employee if there is an overriding and legitimate interest in doing so.
What happens to a company e-mail account after an employee leaves?
If there are regulations in the employment contract or company agreements that are related to the use of a company “e-mail account”, then these are decisive for a further assessment.
If private use is prohibited, then the employer can assume that the mailbox in question contains only business-related mails. The employer may therefore search for unprocessed work-related e-mails and also delete the account of the employee who has left the company.
On the other hand, if private use was allowed, the account may only be deleted with the consent of the employee concerned. If no consent can be obtained, the account may be deleted after a longer waiting period (the employer can assume that the employee is no longer interested in his private data). It is not possible to make a general statement as to how long this “waiting period” should be.
It is therefore generally advisable to define the further procedure regarding the employee’s e-mails sufficiently and clearly both at the beginning and at the end of the employment relationship and to conclude a written agreement on this in order to be on the safe side both when viewing the e-mails and when deleting them.