There are no secrets. The Bear Stearns debacle proves that even higher-ups are getting fired over what they thought were private E-mails. There is something about sending E-mail that seems personal—maybe we believe that the only person reading it will be the one listed in the "to" box. And that leads us to divulge all sorts of information we would not have advertised if, say, the entire company were cc'd. Siegel, who advises management-level workers on workplace proficiency, says that's where the problems come in. He advises his clients to "send E-mail with the assumption that the person you really don't want to read it will read it." In the case of Bear Stearns, this would have been the thousands of investors and homeowners who believed the subprime loan system would work.
What attorney-client relationship? After Structured Settlement Investments fired Scott Sidell, Sidell says he found out the company continued to read his personal Yahoo E-mails, including those between him and his lawyer—intercepting their legal strategy for his arbitration claims over the lost job. To be fair, says Anthony Oncidi of Los Angeles-based Proskauer Rose LLP, using his personal E-mail at work can be compared to "meeting with his lawyer in the company's lunchroom and them overhearing it—and then complaining." The attorney-client communication is private, Oncidi says, unless you forfeit it.
Saved passwords. Sidell's case is especially contentious because he was no longer an employee but may not have signed out of his Yahoo account when he was fired, leaving his account accessible on the work computer for up to two weeks—a popular E-mail feature. But the convenience of saving a password at work is not worth the risk, says Oncidi. "Most people have high-speed Internet access from their homes now—it's not the case anymore that an employee must access E-mail over the employer's system anymore," Oncidi says, so just wait until you get home.