Can Slack Admins Read DMs or private channels?

Yes. Slack admin and employer can read every DMs, private channels, private messages sent between team members. Employers on either Slack’s free tier or paid tier need to submit a request to Slack before they can access your private chats.

Author: Brad Nakase, Attorney

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Slack admins have the ability to review employees’ direct messages, though the type of information they have access to may be limited and subject to approval by Slack.

What is Slack?

Slack is a messaging platform popular in workplaces that boats over 12 million users. An employee may direct message (DM) a coworker or boss or participate in conversations held on various company channels. Slack indicates whether a user is actively chatting at any one moment, which has led to debate about whether Slack increases productivity or encourages – ironically – slacking. Are employees working hard or hardly working?

Slack recently launched Slack Connect, which makes it possible for different workplaces to share channels on the platform. This means that, barring any specific office restrictions, an employee at Company A can send a direct message to an employee at Company B.

That’s a lot of data being shared on one app. For anyone interested in a company or its workers, Slack is a goldmine of information. Parties interested in harvesting this data include government agencies, hackers, and employers. In the age of social media, it is natural to be concerned about who has access to personal information. The typical employee may be most curious about what his or her employer can learn from his or her Slack messages.

Can an Employer View an Employee’s Messages on Slack?

Yes, an employer can view an employee’s Slack DMs. That said, this does not mean the employer is necessarily interested in spying. To refer to the example provided above, Claudia’s boss might not care about her gossiping with Josh. But he does have the ability to access this information should he desire it.

Why Might an Employer Want This Data?

If the company ever faces a lawsuit, it is good practice for the company to save and display Slack’s data should it be required. Similarly, if the company wishes to conduct an internal investigation, it will need to review information transmitted via Slack, including direct messages sent between employees. Is this legal? Yes. Privacy and acceptable use policies permit companies to review personal messages for the purpose of such an investigation. Companies have historically had the right to review employees’ emails in the event of an internal inquiry. There is precedent, therefore, that defends a company’s right to examine Slack messages.

Example: Claudia works for a marketing company. She is friends with her coworker Josh, who sits in a cubicle across the office. Claudia and Josh normally send each other DMs on Slack throughout the day, asking questions about work or simply chatting about weekend plans. One day, Claudia messages Josh some gossip about a mutual friend. In response, Josh cautions Claudia that the Slack Admin may be reading their conversation. Worried, Claudia wonders whether Slack is as private as she believed. Claudia should consider whether she wants her employer to know the details of her gossip, should it ever come to light.

How Easy it For a Slack Admin to Go Through Employees’ DMs?

While an admin has the right to review private messages and channels, he or she may only do so in the proper circumstances. In order to conduct such a review, the employer will need to contact Slack for permission. Slack will review the request and determine whether it is appropriate for the employer to read the private messages of his or her employees. According to Slack, it will approve the request if one or more of the three following conditions are met:

  • The company has the consent of its employees
  • The company is acting according to a legitimate legal process
  • The company is required to do so under relevant laws

If the request is approved, the employer may download data from Slack. The data, however, will be contained in ZIP files. This means that in addition to messages and reactions, deleted messages are also available for review.

Some employers have deals with third-party groups that enable the company to store messages and other data. This is because regulatory agencies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Financial Industry Regulation Authority might require certain companies to preserve messaging data for review.

Ultimately, the employer owns his company’s Slack data, not Slack. The employer is therefore responsible for following the laws that concern the accessing of that data.

Who Else Can Get Access to Slack Messages?

Not only can your employer access Slack DMs under certain situations, but so can law enforcement and lawyers. In the event of a lawsuit involving an employee, employer, or company, messages can be used as evidence in the case.

Example: Sydney used to work in the sales department of a travel agency. Donny, her boss, used Slack to make unwanted sexual advances. After Sydney left the company, she decided to sue Donny for sexual harassment. With the help of her lawyer, she was successfully able to make her old company produce her boss’ inappropriate Slack DMs. She used these messages as evidence and won her case.

The U.S. government may also solicit Slack for data as part of its own investigations. According to Slack, the government has already requested content and data through search warrants, court orders, and subpoenas.

Under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), it is possible for members of the public (like journalists) to request government records. These records could include Slack content such as messages. At present, there has not been an instance of this kind of release occurring, but it is possible in theory.

What Content Can an Employer or Coworkers Get from My Slack?

Unless a specific legal or investigative circumstance arises, there is no way for either employers or coworkers to easily access Slack direct messages. It is, however, possible for an employer or coworker to learn the following information:

  • Time zone
  • Contact info
  • Phone number
  • Location
  • Social media

Perhaps most relevantly, an employer can see whether an employee is active chatting on Slack. If the green light on one’s profile is turned on, their activity is visible to all. While this may raise questions of productivity, this is not justification for the employer to view an employee’s DMs without authorization.

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