Answer: when you're using the e-mail account provided by your employer, knucklehead! Especially, if you are e-mailing your attorney about suing that same employer.
This is one of those cases that sets a chilling precedent for the rest of us. However, the case itself just makes you thunk yourself in the middle of the forehead and say "WTB" (What the bleep? Just in case we have kids reading this).
So, here are the specifics:
A woman in California sued her employer for allegedly becoming hostile toward her after finding out she was pregnant shortly after being hired. She claimed she had suffered severe emotional distress.
At trial, the employer's side entered as evidence an e-mail written by the woman to her attorney that indicated she was merely annoyed and frustrated and, in fact, filed the lawsuit only at the encouragement of her lawyer.
You can imagine what happened next. The woman and her lawyer cried "foul," alleging that it was an invasion of attorney-client priviledge. She won. On appeal, however, she has now lost. The employer's attorney argued back that she was made fully aware that company e-mail was only for company use and subject to being viewed at random by management to make sure employees comply with its policy.
For me, this is the where the wheels fall off, but I guess not for the Sacramento Third Appellate Court. Out of all the e-mails coming and going, is the employer trying to claim it just happened to run across this e-mail with her attorney in a routine bedcheck for policy compliance? C'mon, really?
Reality sandwich time: the line between work life and personal life is so blurry that it basically doesn't exist anymore. It sickens me that employers want it both ways. You want your employees on a tether to the office 24/7 via e-mail, mobile device, company laptop, whatever gives them remote access to the VPN, lets be honest here—whatever keeps them pounding sand for you at all hours. At the same time, those same employers are basically telling their workers their privacy is fair game unless they are on their own time.
Well, when does anyone have their own time anymore?
All that being said, these concerns don't seem to be the issue in this case. The result of this case, however, I believe will make these concerns more acute.