Privacy is a right that is highly valued in American society. Even though people may have more limited privacy in the workplace, there are still certain privacy rights employees have at work. With the advancement of technology, it has become easier for employers to monitor their employees. While employees may not have a reasonable expectation of privacy when sending personal messages from their employer-provided email accounts, there are limits to how much an employer can pry into the lives of its employees. Generally, the law allows employers to monitor their employees while they are on the job and within reason. FindLaw's section on Workplace Privacy provides information regarding the monitoring of employee communications, the use of lie detector tests, background checks, and other related workplace privacy issues.
Internet and Email Policy in the Workplace
Most businesses have an Internet and email policy in place that employees must abide by. Such policies are helpful in spelling out exactly what the company considers appropriate Internet and email usage. The most important thing to remember when writing and implementing such a policy is to be clear – it doesn't help you or your employees to have policies that are vague and open to interpretation. It's also important that you make sure your employees understand the policy, and it's a good idea to have them sign a copy of the policy as well. Typically Internet and email policies are meant to both keep your company secure and to limit the amount of time that employees waste at work. Make sure you let your employees know that work computers are the property of the company, as are the contents of the computer.
Monitoring Employees' Internet Use, Emails, and Phone Calls
Employees should expect their Internet use and company emails monitored by their employer. Employers are generally allowed to keep track of the Internet websites employees visit on their work computers. Employers can also install software that limits access to certain websites that they don't want their employees visiting.
Employers may also monitor their employees' emails, although the employer's rights are not as broad as monitoring Internet usage. It's important to remember that if you tell your employees that their emails will be confidential or private, you will not be allowed to read their emails. Generally, if the employer has a legitimate justification for monitoring an employee's email, courts will side with the employer.
The most protected form of communication for employees are phone calls. Generally, most states allow employers to monitor employees' phone calls with customers, mainly for quality assurance. Although not a requirement in most states, it's good practice to let customers know that their phone conversation is being recorded. While employers are allowed to monitor phone calls with customers, they are not generally allowed to monitor personal calls.
Hiring an Employment Law Attorney
While employees have a diminished expectation of privacy at work, it's important to keep your employee monitoring policies and practices in line with any applicable privacy laws. If you would like help establishing monitoring practices and policies at your business, you should contact an experienced employment law attorney near you.