In nearly every major industry, there are rules established in order to place restrictions on an employer’s ability to search or monitor an employee’s private actions, belongings, communications or personal information. Rules that dictate these limits are called employee privacy laws. Any worker who believes his or her employer may have infringed upon their privacy rights may cite these laws in any case against a superior or company. Here are six different types of rights that employee privacy laws usually apply to.
Most employee privacy laws only protect personal information maintained by government agencies, not private businesses. It is often understood that private companies will refrain from sharing an employee’s personal information — like passwords, home address, Social Security Number and names of friends and family members — without his or her consent. A court is often the only entity that can mandate the release of private information.
Employers can reprimand employees for taking care of personal affairs at work, like making phone calls to friends or relatives or paying credit card bills. However, organizations are not allowed to access or publicly disclose this information.
Internet and Email Privacy
Private businesses are allowed to supervise employees’ computers, emails and phones. It is thus important that company policies on monitoring be clearly defined, documented and that employees acknowledge these rules. In most cases, workers will not be protected by privacy laws if they use a company’s computers or other electronic property and equipment. Organizations can supervise email and internet usage, as well as private messages sent outside of work hours.
Companies can also use tracking software, technologies like Bluetooth and other programs in order to view their employees’ hard drives and computer screens in real time, or — more recently, to measure workers’ productivity levels. According to a 2018 survey conducted by Gartner, companies are increasingly using advanced surveillance technologies to boost worker productivity: 17% of organizations around the world are supervising work-computer-usage information and 16% are utilizing Microsoft Outlook or calendar-usage data to monitor employees.
Companies also maintain the right to supervise phone usage, including calls made to their offices. However, there are certain restrictions to this right. The Electronics Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) forbids employers from surveilling workers’ personal phone calls, even those made on company property. The law also requires businesses to explicitly say that calls are being monitored and dictates that it is a civil liability for companies to disclose, prevent access to or delete an employee’s voicemail. However, employers can participate in calls to clients or customers for quality control or use pen registers to monitor call durations and see lists of phone numbers dialed via extensions.
Private employers are permitted to use cameras to monitor employees. This includes the use of security cameras in parking facilities to ensure employee safety. This being said, companies are obligated to inform workers that they and their property are being monitored via video surveillance. However, video recordings cannot include audio because this constitutes a violation of federal wiretap law. Surveillance cameras also typically cannot be set up in rest rooms or locker rooms, break rooms or other locations associated with privacy. It is also important to note that the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) bars employers from using cameras to supervise employees’ union activities.
Basic Workplace Rights
Every employee is allowed fundamental workplace rights related to privacy. For example, employers are not allowed to search through a worker’s personal belongings — including handbags, briefcases and other similar items — and storage spaces like lockers. Whistleblower rights — which refers to the freedom from punishment filing a claim or complaint against an employer — are also included in basic employee workplace rights. For instance, the Clean Air Act protects employees who uncover violations of environmental law. Other such fundamental employee rights unrelated to privacy include freedom from all types of discrimination and harassment and being able to work in an environment free of unsafe conditions and toxic substances.
Discover More Information About Employee Privacy Laws
Employees who believe they have a credible case against their employer regarding violations of privacy rights laws should contact The Brown Firm, PLLC for further information and assistance. The Brown Firm’s experienced attorneys have extensive experience with cases related to whistleblower litigation and retaliation and discrimination, harassment and civil rights. Their lawyers will guide you through the discovery process by ensuring that all documents are submitted and requested properly by the opposing party. The Brown Firm’s legal professionals can also help with interrogatories of the opposing party and with any deposition process necessary for the given case, as well as with protecting sensitive information that the opposing party may request, like medical and military records. Contact them today for more information about employee privacy laws!