Are emails at work confidential or privileged?

A reader wondered about communicating with her lawyer from work.  In particular, she wondered if such communications are confidential or privileged.

Generally, communications between a client and her lawyer are subject to solicitor-client privilege, and may not be revealed in court.

However, if the client contacts her lawyer from work, and in particular uses her work smartphone, work computer or her employer’s Internet connection, her employer may have access to her communications with her lawyer.   This applies even if the client uses her work computer but uses her own web-based email (like Gmail or Hotmail) to send and receive emails with her lawyer.

This is because most employers have an information technology policy which allows the employer to have access to all data stored on an employee’s work computer, as well as access to all data transfers in and out of an employee’s work computer.  There is likely a similar policy with respect to smartphones issued by the employer as well.

If an employee absolutely needs to contact a lawyer while at work, I recommend that the employee use their own personal email account on their personal smartphone to do so.

And please remember to make sure the personal smartphone is using your cellular provider’s network, and not the employer’s wifi network.

About David Lam

David Lam is a lawyer practicing business law, real estate law, intellectual property law (patents, trademarks, copyright, licensing), and litigation in the Greater Toronto Area. For more information and to contact David, please visit
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3 Responses to Are emails at work confidential or privileged?

  1. Corporate Guru.... says:

    David, great post. Question: If you are using a SSL connection to your e-mail from work, would this still apply? Unless the employer is using keystroke logging techniques and/or desktop capture, one could be fairly reasonably protected by this method since the connection would be encrypted ?

    • David Lam says:

      It’s true, with HTTPS technically the employer can’t access your webmail unless there’s a man in the middle attack or there’s logging software on your work computer. But even HTTPS webmail leaves traces if the average worker is not careful, such as temporary files or cached content on the work computer, emails inadvertently saved on your work server private directory, or using a corporate printer to print emails thus sending a previously private email in cleartext through the corporate network to the corporate printer server.

  2. Anonymous says:


    My question is of a similar nature, but is in regards to text messages. My company provides a cell phone. I pay a fee each month to cover my personal use of the cell phone the company pays the remainder (larger) portion of the bill. Text messages are sent through the Telus cell network and not through my company wifi. I have a good number of texts of a personal nature to a friend who is also an employee about my personal life and my health. I’m concerned about what my company may do with the information and the confidentiality of my health info. Does my company have the right to get a transcript of my text messages? Do they need a warrant and work with the police to do so? I’ve broken no laws so working with a police to get a warrant about my health or my latest girlfriend doesn’t seem a reasonable possibility. I know you are going to say why not get another cell phone. First, I don’t want to get a second cell phone as I’m already paying for personal use on this phone. And second most of my friends are in the company and using company cell phones so this really wouldn’ t stop the potential invasion of my privacy.

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