After years of debate, industrial disputes and legal wrangling, legislation is finally being introduced to cover email monitoring in the workplace.
NSW has taken the lead, announcing that the proposed Workplace Surveillance Act, which will regulate the use of surveillance devices to monitor employees, will be drafted by the end of the year.
In the absence of legislation, most organisations introduced Internet policies in recent years to advise employees of email monitoring, but the introduction of a Bill and its formal guidelines will bring an end to workplace disputes that invariably end up before the Industrial Relations Commission (IRC).
The legislation has support from both sides of the workplace with employers claiming IRC rulings are inconsistent and employees claiming organisations should be forced to disclose surveillance on workers.
The legislation would clarify these issues as the Act would legally force employers to advise workers of workplace surveillance, NSW Labor Council secretary, John Robertson, said.
"Unions have been arguing for years that workers should not be spied on at work," he said.
"Employers should not screen private e-mails. While there should be limits placed on email usage, emails themselves should not be monitored."
Announcing the legislation, NSW Premier, Bob Carr,said employers had a "legitimate right to protect business interests – but not at the expense of the privacy of their workers".
However, head of workplace relations and employment law for Clayton Utz, Joe Catanzariti, said most organisations already complied with the proposed legislation.
"All employers with half a brain have been told by their lawyers to have a policy saying that emails belong to the company, and to advise that employees' email is being monitored," Catanzariti said.
Asia-Pacific regional sales manager of email filtering provider Websense, Graham Pearson, welcomed the legislation.
He said that for years the law had been one step behind workplace issues that organisations were tackling.