In the modern era, we rely more and more on technology in the workplace. All of this new tech has raised a variety of questions about an individual worker’s right to privacy in the workplace.
Invasion of privacy is a serious issue and there are laws in place that can help those who work for employers to protect themselves. The workplace privacy law is in place for this exact reason.
Given all the changes in how we communicate at work, it can be difficult to discern what actions and details are protected under the law and which are open for employers to dig through themselves. What do workplace privacy laws protect?
Read on and we’ll walk you through what you need to know.
Internet and Computer Usage
One of the major areas where people debate workplace privacy law is the use of work computers. How much of what an employee does or says on these devices gets monitored, and how much of a right to privacy does one have?
The answer is, not all too much under current laws. Most of what an employee does on a work computer is legally of interest to an employer. Emails, for example, are to be company property as long as they’re sent using the company’s computer system.
As long as a company can prove they have a valid business reason for doing so, they have a full legal right to monitor, view, and using employee emails to their liking. In fact, some businesses even have built-in systems in place that serve to filter and monitor emails as they are being sent, checking for illegal use and other issues.
Emails end up being evidence in employee-worker court cases quite frequently.
What about what a user does on the web when using a work computer? It’s a similar situation. An employer has a full right to track the websites that their employees visit. Even beyond that, they have a right to block certain websites or limit the amount of time one can spend online.
When it comes to computer usage at work, the ball is certainly in the employer’s court. The law does not often side with the employee when disputes around this kind of use arise.
One subject that’s become increasingly controversial over the past few years is the idea of drug testing at work. Some consider this kind of test a major intrusion on employees right to privacy.
However, the law is still on the side of the employer in most situations involving drug testing. An employer does have the legal right to require employees to submit to drug screenings. An employee can not resist taking a drug test without some sort of consequence handed down from their employer.
However, where the law does come in is in regards to when and how these tests may be administered. An employer may administer a test if they employ workers whose jobs carry a lot of risks, or whom employment believes has shown evidence of drug use based on physical evidence or behavior.
Employees who have completed drug rehabilitation programs in the past also might have to take a drug test during the course of their employment.
The results of these tests are protected somewhat under workplace privacy laws. Employers can only share these results on a need-to-know basis. Often, most frontline managers will only know if the test came back negative or positive, but won’t know what the actual details of the test results were.
Drug testing results might also be required to be submitted in order to obtain certain government benefits. The disclosure of test results might be requested by the government when providing unemployment eligibility, worker’s compensation claims, and numerous other cases.
Phone Calls at Work
What about when an employer takes a call at work? Is that something that is protected under privacy laws in the workplace? This one is a bit tricker of a topic.
In many businesses, employers use surveillance practices to actually monitor their employee phone calls. This might sound surprising to you, but you’ve often heard about it when you call into a customer service line: this call is being recorded for quality assurance.
There are legal limits to what employers can and can’t monitor when it comes to phone calls. Most of these laws originate from ECPA, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. These laws stipulate that an employer may not, under any circumstance, monitor personal phone calls made by an employee, even if those calls are from phones located in the workplace.
The only exception to this law is if an employee consents to a recording of their personal phone call ahead of time. No consent, no legal right.
Voicemail messages receive similar legal protection. Even if a voicemail is left on a work phone, employers have no right to read, delete, or prevent access to these recordings. If an employer were to take this kind of action, the employee in question could take legal action against them.
Phone calls are one of the more protected elements of a worker’s rights at the office.
Understanding Workplace Privacy Law
The relationship between an employer and employee can sometimes be a tense one, and it’s important to know where certain lines can be drawn. Workplace privacy law helps to differentiate between right and wrong when it comes to a worker’s right to privacy at their place of employment.
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