6 Things to Know About Employee Privacy in The Workplace
Former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, Louis Brandeis, called the right to privacy, “the right to be left alone.” Privacy can also be defined as, “the state or condition of being free from being observed or disturbed by other people.” Many of us thoroughly enjoy our privacy at home. In fact, we usually expect it. However, at work, you won’t get to enjoy that level of privacy. There are six areas of privacy that we want to discuss.
1. WORK COMPUTERS
An employer owned computer is most commonly known to have little privacy attached to it for the employee. Your employer can monitor all activity on your computer including internet activity and email. There is even software available to monitor and log every keystroke you make, and how long you are idle at your workstation. Everything you do on your computer can be monitored by your employer to protect its business interests and thus there is no expectation of privacy. One thing an employer cannot monitor and should remain private to you is third-party personal email accessed from your work computer. It may be against company policy to view personal emails at work; however, your employer is not allowed to monitor your personal email account.
Your desk telephone can also be monitored. Employers can listen in on all phone calls made and received by their employees. Some states require notification that calls are being recorded to both employees and callers. In Nevada, state law requires that all parties on the line consent to being recorded during a phone call. The only exception to monitoring phone calls is on personal calls. It is usually understood that when an employer realizes that a phone call is personal, they must stop listening. However, this can be circumvented by telling employees that personal phone calls from work phones are not allowed. Having this policy means the employee risks their personal call being listened to.
3. MOBILE DEVICES
In today’s day and age, mobile devices are widely used in the workplace. If a smartphone or tablet is provided to you by your employer, an employer is usually free to monitor your text messages, email, internet activity, phone calls, photos, videos, and apps used. This can be done by installing monitoring apps that will secretly record all this information. Be careful of using a work phone for any personal business that you would rather an employer not know about.
4. VIDEO SURVEILLANCE
According to PrivacyRights.org, “Federal law does not prevent video monitoring even when the employee does not know or consent to being monitored.” This means that video surveillance can be in the workplace to monitor employees, maintain security, and protect assets. Some states have more restrictions on video surveillance of employees, however in general your employer is free to do so.
5. U.S. MAIL
One area of workplace privacy that is not often thought about is the mail. If you have mail sent to your place of employment, once it is delivered, you employer is free to open the mail without violating any laws prohibiting this practice. If you are concerned with your mail remaining private, it might be better to have anything personal sent to your home instead of the office.
6. SOCIAL MEDIA
Social media has become a large part of society, and the information you post online is becoming increasingly difficult to keep private. Many companies have some kind of social media policy limiting employees on what can be posted online regarding their work. Public posts about your job is generally not considered to be private, and if the post has the potential to be damaging to the company in some way, the employee can be disciplined based on the employer’s policy.
As you can see, there isn’t a lot of privacy to be had at work apart from your personal belongings, and certain places such as restrooms and locker rooms. It’s unlikely that an employer will be found to have violated an employee’s privacy while that employee is on the clock at work, but it does happen. There have been cases decided where an employer has violated an employee’s privacy, but those are generally based on specific facts to the cases. If you think your privacy has been violated, contact an employment attorney for more information.
And finally, as we always say, “If you think you might need an attorney, you probably do.” Contact us before anything is set in stone. We love answering questions!