Employers Reading Your Emails: After You Leave?

Here’s everything about employers reading your emails after your leave:

Some employers will read your emails after you leave.

This can be for a variety of reasons that include protecting state secrets, protecting company secrets, verifying cybersecurity, and checking on productivity.

This can be done through a variety of means, mostly by monitoring email, devices, and/or networks.

So if you want to learn all about why and how employers would read your emails, then this article is for you.

Let’s jump right in!

Employers Reading Your Emails: Possible After You Leave?

Do Employers Read Your Emails After You Leave?

Modern equipped office workstation in an office building.

The answer to this question depends on a few things.

In the following sections, I’ll discuss how they might be able to read your emails, but as to whether or not this ever happens, there are times when employers do in fact read your email.

There are other cases where they won’t.

It depends on where you work, your work contract, how your email is managed, and several other factors.

We’ll get into all of it during the course of this discussion.

Before that, there’s one other thing we need to discuss.

What is meant by “after you leave?”

Are we talking about after you leave work for the day or after you leave a job completely?

Well, both are viable questions, and the truth in this section is that it still depends.

Some employers might read your emails after you leave work for the day.

Even more, employers might be willing to do this when you leave the company for good.

I’ll go through all of it.

Is It Possible for Employers to Read Your Emails?

Elegant thoughtful woman working at computer in office

Yes. Let’s make sure that this point is perfectly clear.

Whether or not an employer will choose to read emails after you leave is one thing.

Whether or not they can is another.

In the vast majority of cases, it is definitely possible for employers to read your emails.

I’ll explain how in a later section, and when I do, you’ll see that there are times when they actually might not be able to read your emails.

But in general, you can assume that your employer can read your emails.

This is true whether you are currently employed or if you have left the company for another job, retirement, or any other situation.

How Do Employers Read Your Emails? (4 Scenarios)

Woman checking something on laptop

Knowing that it’s possible to read the emails and understanding how the mechanisms work are very different things.

It’s not necessary to sit in fear of what your employer may or may not choose to do while you’re at work.

We can do better.

That’s why I’m going to explain the primary ways that an employer can monitor and read employee emails.

Whether you’re gone for the day or for good, the techniques below represent the nuts and bolts of how all of this works.

As you go through them, you’ll quickly see if any given option is even viable for the way your workplace operates.

#1 Email Server

woman writing an email at work

Is your work email provided by the company?

Does it end with @companyname.com?

If so, then the company is in direct control of the email servers.

They can read every email sent and received on every account that they manage.

So, yes. They can read your emails, and it’s easy.

If they have a strong reason to check your emails (we’ll talk about motivations later), then they can even use automated software to look for specific bits of information in your incoming and outgoing messages.

They can do that the whole time you work for them, and if and when you leave the company, they can scour your email too.

Perhaps the craziest thing about companies controlling their own email servers is that they can even view deleted emails.

Depending on how they manage the server, deleted emails can stick around for a while or even indefinitely, so you really don’t have much control at all over what the employer can and cannot read.

#2 Company Devices

Man checking his email on a laptop at work

This is a scenario that’s even easier to understand.

Do you use a computer at work?

Is it owned by the company?

If so, your employer can definitely read your emails.

They won’t have as much control through this mechanism as they do when they manage the email server itself, but there’s still plenty of control here.

It’s easy to imagine. You finish work for the day and go home.

Your employer, for whatever reason, wants to check on your email account.

They can simply walk over to the computer that you use, log in, and check things right there.

That example highlights how easy it is to do these things, but it’s hardly the limit.

In reality, IT staff members usually have master passwords that give them access to every device the company owns, and they can usually access devices remotely.

So, with IT help, your boss can pretty easily check your emails or anything else you save on company computers.

#3 What About Bringing Your Own Device Arrangement?

Professional woman walking on the street with a laptop.

But, you think, I use my own device.

The company doesn’t own it.

They just let me use my own stuff for work because it’s easier and more convenient.

Even in that case, it’s possible that they can see your emails, but this is the scenario where you have the most control.

If we’re assuming that the company doesn’t control your work email address either, then the only way your employer could see your emails is if you shared them or if you allowed them to install monitoring software on your device.

Let’s use a laptop as an example.

You have your own laptop, and the company lets you use it for work.

In order to set it up as a work device, you had to work with someone from IT, and they installed security software and other things on the laptop for you.

If any of those installations included monitoring software (which should be explained in a clear contract), then your employer can use that software to see how you use the laptop for work.

That can include emails.

#4 Network Monitoring

employees with laptops having a team meeting

There’s another way that your employer can monitor email usage, and this works regardless of who owns any devices in use.

If you connect to a company network when you’re at work, then it’s possible for the company to monitor your emails.

This method is more complicated, less reliable for tracking emails, and won’t necessarily allow them to outright read the emails, but it’s worth discussing.

Basically, any internet-related work you do has to run through the company network.

That network controls all traffic in and out of the office.

Because of that, it’s possible to use network monitoring tools to look at all traffic in and out of the office.

Now, this happens at a level where the monitoring software isn’t literally reading messages that you send over the internet.

Instead, it’s keeping track of how much data is sent through the network, how the data is classified, and who is sending or receiving that data.

With this method alone, your employer can’t really read your emails, but if the monitoring tools are set up in the right way, they can tell who you email.

If you send emails that send up red flags, then they may insist on monitoring your emails more closely (possibly using one of the methods previously discussed) to see if you have been sending things that you shouldn’t.

Why Would Your Employers Read Your Emails? (6 Reasons)

Beautiful woman checking her laptop while standing at office desk

That’s a pretty thorough look at how an employer can read your emails.

Hopefully, those details shed enough light that you can more or less guess which ones are possible at your place of work.

Still, there’s another question hanging in the air.

Why do they even want to read your emails?

There are countless justifications for such an action, so I went through the trouble of listing the dominant excuses below.

Some of the reasons make sense. Others are less compelling.

Regardless, this is an attempt to guess what your boss might be thinking when they read your emails—if that’s something they even do.

As I said before, this depends on the work circumstances and your employer.

There is no guarantee either way when it comes to reading your emails after you leave.

#1 Security Clearance

company workers using gadgets at office

We’ll start with a situation that definitely doesn’t apply to all jobs but is easy to understand as a justification.

Some types of work involve dealing with state secrets.

Whether you work directly for the government or as a government contractor, if you handle state secrets that require a special security clearance, then there are strict rules to follow.

It’s not at all uncommon for security experts or auditors to review email accounts to ensure that the rules are being followed.

Similarly, your employer could potentially review your emails to make sure you haven’t been breaking any rules, and this definitely applies to both ideas: leaving for the day and leaving a position permanently.

#2 Corporate Secrets

Professional woman holding a laptop at work

Protecting state secrets is a matter of law.

Protecting corporate secrets is a matter of self-interest.

If you work on any projects where secrecy is important (such as on patent-pending technology), then your company might want to take extra steps to make sure that your important knowledge is properly secured and protected.

They may use the techniques I mentioned to see what kinds of emails you are sending and receiving, and if anything sets off any red flags, it could mean serious trouble.

The basic rule to follow here is the more the secrets are worth, the more likely you are to have your emails read after you leave.

#3 Corporate Security

Young IT engineer working at server room of company

We’ve covered secrets pretty well, but the vast majority of people don’t really handle important secrets in their work.

Even so, there are plenty of reasons an employer could use to justify reading your emails.

One has to do with cybersecurity.

You see, the easiest way for a hacker to breach a company is not by using sophisticated algorithms and creative hacking skills.

Instead, the easiest way is to trick an employee into giving up security information, and it happens more than you might think.

In the interest of protecting against such a situation, some employers might sample employee emails to see if they are receiving any potentially dangerous emails.

And in the event that they do, the company might want to check up on how you handle those emails.

This is less about protecting any piece of information and more about protecting general corporate security.

#4 Liability

Female colleagues having a serious meeting closed doors

It’s easy to overlook, but when you email people from a business account, you are representing the company.

That means that if you say things that you shouldn’t in an email, it could mean trouble for the whole company.

In this case, we’re talking about liability.

If you mishandle personal information for customers or clients, say inappropriate things, or breach any contracts (intentionally or not), then you could put the company at risk for liability damages.

An employer might want to see what kinds of risks they are facing by checking in on employee emails from time to time.

This is more likely to happen as a reaction to an event (like the company being sued), but it’s ultimately like anything else on this list — up to the employer’s discretion.

#5 Productivity

Group of team creative business people celebrating success of project

Perhaps the easiest justification to imagine is one of checking on productivity.

Are you getting important work done when you’re on the clock, or are you emailing cat pictures to your mom?

Your employer might ask a similar question.

The gist of the idea here is that if you’re sending personal emails at work, then your productivity might not be where it should be.

Obviously, this is a contentious issue that very much depends on the circumstances.

Needless to say, if your employer thinks that your productivity is below a satisfactory level, they might check your emails to look for clues as to why you aren’t getting more done every day.

#6 Bad Faith

Serious professional woman thinking in front of laptop in office

Last on the list is the simplest idea of them all.

Sometimes, your employer might read your email because they’re acting in bad faith.

Whether they are nosy, on a power trip, fail to understand boundaries, or have any other personal issue related to the decision, they’re reading your emails because they can and they want to do it.

It’s not about protecting anyone or following rules.

It’s certainly not an action designed to help you or even the company.

They’re reading your emails when they shouldn’t, and even if that feels like a violation of trust, it doesn’t mean that you have a lot of options.

Mostly, your choices will be tied to your employment contract.

If the company has ways for you to contest the situation, you can follow them, but in many cases, your employer can read your work emails without justification, and there’s not much you can do about it.

Keep in mind that this only applies to work emails.

They have absolutely no right to invade your privacy when it comes to personal email accounts.


  • Theresa McDonough

    Tech entrepreneur and founder of Tech Medic, who has become a prominent advocate for the Right to Repair movement. She has testified before the US Federal Trade Commission and been featured on CBS Sunday Morning, helping influence change within the tech industry.

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