How To Know Where Is The Limit To Employee Privacy Rights?

These days, it’s common knowledge that your employer will most likely google you and check your social media before deciding if they want to hire you. 

It’s not uncommon for employers to bring up old tweets, and uncouth posts to their employees during an induction process at the workplace, simply just to show them how easy it is to find this information.

Of course, this makes us feel extremely exposed and aware of ourselves. Most people change their social media platforms to private than public for this reason. This isn’t all bad. Social media users who post hateful, harmful, or ridiculous content deserve some form of punishment and be reprimanded for their actions. 

For example, the black lives matter movement has allowed the torch to be shone on a lot of hateful and harmful content posted by regular social media users, and these can’t go unnoticed. As an employer, would you want an overtly racist employee working for you?

The answer is no, as this would reflect on your business negatively, and be extremely detrimental to the future of your business’ reputation. Seemingly, it does come in useful to do a quick google search on your potential new employee. But where do we draw the line?

During this article, we will discuss different ways in which employee privacy rights may be breached in the workplace.

Phone calls At Work

Another way that employers can collect data on employees is by monitoring telephone calls. In most cases, your employer does not need your permission to monitor your calls. However, there are a few exceptions to this rule:

  • If you are using a personal phone for work-related purposes, your employer must get your consent before monitoring your calls.
  • If you are using a company phone, your employer can only listen in on calls if they have a legitimate business reason for doing so. For example, they may need to ensure quality control or prevent fraud.
  • Your employer must notify you if they are going to start monitoring your calls. This notice can be in the form of a sign posted in a visible location.
  • If your employer is recording your calls, they must tell you that the call is being recorded.
  • You have the right to request access to any recordings that were made of your calls.

Monitoring telephone calls can be a helpful tool for employers, for example for purposes such as quality control or preventing fraud. 

However, there are a few rules that they must follow. For instance, they must notify you if they are going to start monitoring your calls. Additionally, if they are recording your calls, they must inform you that the call is being recorded. 

You also have the right to request access to any recordings that were made of your calls. If you are reading this as an employee, now is the time to raise your concerns with your employer if you feel like your rights are being breached with regard to the above. 

If you’re an employer unsure of your limits with monitoring telephone calls, you need to discuss with the heads of your business the rules and regulations in place surrounding your employees’ rights to their privacy with telephone calls. 

Texting Employees At Work

Another important factor to take into account is being texted by your employer off the clock at work. So, where is the limit to employee privacy rights with regard to being texted out of work hours?

There is no definitive answer to this question. It largely depends on the specific circumstances and laws of the jurisdiction in which the employee works. However, there are some general principles that can be applied in most cases.

Generally speaking, employees have a right to privacy after work hours. This means that employers cannot send them text messages or other communications during this time unless it is for a legitimate business purpose. 

For example, an employer may need to contact an employee about an urgent work matter. However, employers should not use this as an opportunity to invade an employee’s personal life or pry into their private matters.

If an employer does send employees after-hours texts or other communications, they should be clear about the purpose of the message and respectful of the employee’s right to privacy. Employees should also be given the opportunity to opt out of receiving such messages if they do not want to receive them.

Of course, there are certain instances when a manager texting their employee is non-compensable. Such as; discussing time off, asking about availability, etc. However, if you are waiting for your employer to text you or perform additional work, you should be compensated for this.

A lot of big businesses have a programme in place called ‘on-call’ to tackle this situation. If your employer currently doesn’t, then this is a breach of your worker’s rights. Therefore, if you’re a manager reading this, and are used to texting employees out of work hours on the regular, you are breaching your employees’ privacy rights. As both an employer and employee, it’s important to read the rules and regulations around when you can text and when you can’t text after work hours. 

Sometimes even asking a quick and basic favour can have you breaching employee rights! 

Internet Privacy at Work

Many employers now provide their employees with internet access. However, this does not mean that your employer is not monitoring your internet usage and search history. In fact, most employers have the right to monitor your internet activity while you are at work.

This can come in useful for a lot of reasons. For example, if an employee is researching harmful, exploitative, and worrying content for purposes that may or may not be related to work matters – this can be caught and addressed before anything happens.

However, the internet within the workplace can also be used for extremely private, emotional purposes. So, where do we draw the line here?

Firstly, there are a few things you should know about internet privacy at work:

  • Your employer can track which websites you visit and how long you spend on each site.
  • You have the right to request access to any records that were made of your internet activity.
  • Your employer must notify you if they are going to start monitoring your internet usage. This notice can be in the form of a sign posted in a visible location.
  • If your employer is monitoring your internet usage for other purposes, such as marketing or research, they must obtain your consent before doing so.

It’s important to be aware of how your employer is monitoring your internet usage. You have the right to request access to any records that were made of your internet activity. 

Additionally, if your employer is going to start monitoring your internet usage, they must notify you beforehand. Remember, you always have the right to refuse consent if you feel uncomfortable with the way your employer is collecting data on you.

However, the differences in obligation for each employer can vary from country to country and state to state. This means that some areas may have stricter laws and regulations than others. 

If you’re unsure, have a look at the obligations concerning employee data privacy for the area you live in. If you don’t feel as though your business is complying with them, then it’s worth raising these concerns. 

Video Surveillance

The limits to employee privacy rights are constantly changing and evolving. With new technology comes new ways for employers to collect data and monitor employees. One such way is video surveillance.

Most office buildings have some type of security camera system in place. These cameras are typically used for deterring crime and catching perpetrators after the fact. However, many employers are now using these same camera systems to keep an eye on their employees.

Video surveillance can be a helpful tool for employers, for example for purposes such as marketing or research. However, they must contain your consent before doing so. 

Similarly, employers must notify you if they are using cameras for monitoring purposes. You also have the right to request access to the footage that was captured of you, if you feel it is needed for your defense.

It’s important to know where the line is drawn when it comes to employee privacy rights. If you have any questions about how your employer is using video surveillance, be sure to ask them directly. Remember, you always have the right to request access to the footage that was captured of you!

Email Privacy

The internet has drastically changed the way we communicate and conduct business. Email in particular has become an indispensable tool in the workplace. 

However, with the increased use of email comes the potential for abuse. Employers may feel that they have a right to monitor their employee’s email usage, but there are limits to what they can do.

Employee privacy rights were first addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1986 in the case of O’Connor v. Ortega. 

The Court held that public employees have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their workplace, but that this expectation is not absolute. It depends on the circumstances under which the monitoring takes place.

In general, employers are allowed to monitor email communications if they have a legitimate business reason for doing so. For example, they may want to make sure that employees are not spending too much time on personal email or engaging in inappropriate communications. 

They may also be concerned about company secrets being leaked or confidential information being shared without authorization. 

Basically, if you’re emailing at the workplace and using company technology, whether it’s work-related or not, your employer has a right to monitor the emails sent and received.  However, employers must take care not to violate their employee’s privacy rights. They should have a clear policy in place regarding email monitoring and make sure that employees are aware of it. 

The policy should specify what types of activities will be monitored and why. Employees should also be given the opportunity to opt out of having their email monitored if they wish.

What To Do If Rights Are Breached

There are a few ways to determine where the limit to employee privacy rights is. The first way is to consult with an attorney who specializes in employment law. They will be able to tell you what the specific laws are in your state or country.

Another way to figure out where the limit to employee privacy rights is is to look at court cases that have been decided on this issue. 

You can find these cases by doing a simple search online. Keep in mind that not all court cases will be relevant to your situation, but they can give you a good idea of how the courts have ruled on this issue in the past.

You can also talk to other employees who may have had similar experiences. See if they have any advice on how to handle the situation. You may find after speaking with a few trusted colleagues in the workplace, that they have also felt the same way for some time. 

From here, you can all decide your course of action together, more confidently!

Take-Home Message

Ultimately, it is up to you to decide what is best for you and your situation. 

Remember, employers should be clear about the purpose of after-hours communications and respect employees’ right to privacy. Employees should also have the opportunity to opt out of receiving such messages if they do not wish to receive them.

However, if you’re unsure about your own situation, the best way to know where the limit is on employee privacy rights is to consult with an attorney or legal expert in your jurisdiction. 

In addition, if consulting an attorney seems a bit like jumping the gun too soon, then the best course of action is to talk with either a trusted colleague or trusted friend about what you feel is happening in the workplace. 

Similarly, don’t share the burden alone. Confiding in those we trust also means that a problem shared, is a problem halved.

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