In an increasingly digital world, privacy is a growing concern. Not only is personal information now more public than ever, but it can also spread faster. Protecting your privacy can be tricky in any context, but can be an especially challenging area to navigate in the workplace.
You have certain rights as an employee, but your employer also does. The line between what’s permissible and what’s a violation can often be hard to define for all parties involved. As such, you may not realize that your higher-ups are infringing on your rights. Conversely, your employer may noet ven be aware that they are invading your privacy.
Striking a balance between managing employees and respecting their privacy is crucial to any company. To run a business that is both efficient and safe, everyone must understand how the law defines privacy and work to operate securely within those limits.
A central determining factor in matters of workplace privacy is whether or not the situation in question was one where the employee could have a reasonable expectation of it. There are some areas where you would expect to have a certain amount of privacy. These areas are where legally defined violations occur.
Defensible expectations come from past behaviors, workplace policies and common sense. You would expect your employer not to install and use cameras in a restroom, but you would expect them near a register. Actions permissible in one context may not be acceptable in another.
Your personal expectations are not the sole factor at play. These have to be reasonable. Likewise, how employers gather and use information has to be fair. Otherwise, they might constitute a violation of privacy.
While many claims fall into a legal gray area, both employees and employers have defined rights that dictate the actions they can take. In general, employers are allowed to monitor most activities within the workplace closely. Behavior outside of work hours or locations is more protected, but some actions within specific contexts are still available for employers to observe and take action on.
Employers have the right to monitor internet activity within the workplace. They can use tools such as tracking software or webpage restrictions to enforce their policy, especially on company-owned devices. Private businesses can read and archive employee email, even messages unrelated to business.
Employees have more rights regarding phones than they do with computers. While a company can regulate phone usage during business hours, they cannot monitor personal calls. Employers can listen in on business calls, but they must inform employees of the policy to do so. Companies must tell clients and customers if they monitor phone calls.
Businesses can employ security measures such as cameras to protect against criminal activity or keep employees in check. If this is the case, employers must notify anyone who would be taped by the cameras, and footage cannot include audio.
Social media is a growing area of concern for employers. Under the National Labor Relations Act, you can freely discuss things like working conditions and pay on social media. However, you are not protected if you use social media to leak proprietary information or post offensive content.
No one wants there to be an issue with privacy. Employees want their personal information to be protected. Employers may also take the privacy of their workers seriously, or more practically, wish to avoid the legal repercussions of overstepping their boundaries.
While much of the legality of these issues falls to interpretation, there are steps employers can take to ensure they protect employee privacy. Before anything else, both workers and employers should be familiar with the various laws relating to workplace privacy to know their rights and the rights of others.
The most important thing is transparency. Employers should have specific written privacy policies that are communicated clearly with employees. This not only protects against potential lawsuits, but also builds trust between workers and management. If employers are monitoring any activity, especially that outside of work, they need to say so.
Employers are legally allowed to conduct searches of company property, but if they are reserving this right, they should inform their employees. Similarly, if a company wishes to perform drug screening, it should notify workers. Any such policies should be applied consistently across all employees in all situations.
Whether you are at the head of your own business or an employee, you should check local laws to understand any specifics that apply to you. In general, if privacy policies are reasonable and disclosed upfront, there is no reason to worry.
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