Opening absent employee e-mail

Mar 22, 2024

Can an employer open an employee’s email whilst he/she is away on holiday or out of office? It depends.

In the course of business

Section 6 of our monitoring law, the Regulation of Interception of Communications & Provision of Communication-Related Information Act of 2002 (RICA) allows companies to monitor and intercept email provided that it takes place “in the course of the carrying on of any business” at the employer (“company”) and provided that the other requirements of section 6 have been met. “Business” has been given a very wide definition.

The types of activities covered here would be any business transaction, anything that relates in any way to the employer’s business, or any activity that takes place in some or other way in the course of carrying on business. This would include those situations where the employer monitors communications to check whether they:

  • involve the business entering into transactions, or
  • relate in another way to the business.

So the employer may open e-mails in an absent employee’s inbox if this is necessary to see whether there are business communications that need to be dealt with in the employee’s absence.


Do not open personal emails

However, the employer must not open e-mails that in their unopened state appear not to relate to the business (for example e-mails that are marked “personal” in the header) unless there are convincing grounds on which to believe they are in fact business-related. These categories cover most business communications but they do not include personal communications by employees unless they relate to the business.

Interception will therefore not be allowed if it is carried out intentionally with a view to gain access to the contents of a personal communication sent to or received by an employee, that does not relate to the business. This does not prevent an interception which is carried out only to gain access to the contents of business communications but which may incidentally and unavoidably involve some access to other personal communications on the system.


Credit: Lance Michalsons

The content does not constitute legal advice, are not intended to be a substitute for legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Kindly contact us on or 021 556 1075 to speak to one of our consultants.


Wallace Albertyn

Wallace Albertyn is a Senior Associate and Legal Advisor at LabourMan Consultants.

Recent LabourTalk Articles

Termination of Employment while on Leave

Termination of Employment while on Leave

The law The employer or employee may terminate the employment relationship at any time if the resignation or termination of the employment relationship is in accordance with...

LabourTalk Newsletters

Subscribe and receive labour related information

Follow us



© 2024 ~ All Rights Reserved  |  Privacy Policy