Privacy in the Workplace
The importance of privacy has risen over the years and its handling has become extremely crucial lately. Defaulting organisations have been faced with serious legal actions and thus, companies have taken a higher interest in the conversations of their workforce. However, this effort of the employer aimed at monitoring the activities of workers isn’t as smooth as it should be due to the right of the employee to personal privacy.
The right of the workers to workplace privacy has caused several court cases recently, mostly due to the digital revolution of business communication i.e. emails, memos etc. Technological developments have made it possible for all form of digital communication as well as Internet use in the workplace to be placed under surveillance. Although employees have their reservations about this, the employers are protected by the law. However, other actions of the workers like confidential discussions and their private spaces at their offices are given higher privacy allowances. Nonetheless, actions like substance use when detected could lead to addiction tests (Smith & Burg, 2012).
When queries are made over employee workplace privacy rights, it could be very helpful to begin investigating the claims by attempting to answer the question: What really happened? This question is important in order to understand the rights concerned and the precise technology involved in the query. In some cases, general workers might have separate privacy regulations from the isolated workers or the company could be disinterested in the privacy of the workers. In other cases, the company could take the issue of privacy seriously and implement measures like passwords, information classes and even electronic lockboxes.
Furthermore, it is crucial to note that regulations guarding employee privacy are far behind many of the technological advances that are gradually being inducted into the workplace and the present laws often stay out of cases involving electronic privacy. The rapid evolvement of technology has caused several judges to avoid questions over the future of laws in this area. Due to these problems, individual workplace privacy issues have to be thoroughly assessed (Smith & Burg, 2012).
Technology and the Workplace
It has become quite rampant for employees to misuse the available workplace technological facilities. Despite the warnings of the employers, reading news dailies, online shopping and even improper emailing at work still remain the order of the day. Lots of these erring employees erroneously believe their employers are oblivious to their actions.
It has been proved that over a third of medium and large scale organizations keep their workers’ email and web actions under surveillance. Equally, about 57% of workers believe employers are right by monitoring their workplace communication (Muhl, 2003). Despite obvious worries about this development, surveillance software sales rose from $139 million in 2001 to about $662 million within 5 years. The basis for this are: risk of litigation (68%), security worries (60%), and employee efficiency reasons (45%)(Cox, Goette, & Young, 2005).
Top company personnel and tech experts often have problems with the simplicity and the speed of information transfer. Email, for instance, does not have the features of previous modes of communication like letters and phone calls. This freedom cause less importance to be placed on the content and could lead to private or insulting information being sent. Equally, people should consider the risk of the message being intercepted or diverted which could have dire consequences for the company as well as the workforce (Cox, Goette, & Young, 2005).
Right of Privacy
Government employees might be protected by the constitutional arrangement concerning privacy in the Fourth Amendment, but its level of influence doesn’t include private employers and how they relate to their workers. Despite this, there are certain legal provisions for privacy issues e.g. the law against invasion of privacy. For both laws, specifying if the expectations of the employee meet certain standards is the desired objective. Due to the various types of workplaces, each reported privacy issue should be treated based on the nature of the workplace. Things to consider are how long existing spaces and technology has been in use, how well they have been used and how personal effects and knowledge are stored as directed by the employer. Equally, the presence of relevant policy guarding this issue is also considered (Smith & Burg, 2012).
Clearly defined policies about employee privacy help quash any sort of personal privacy expectations concerning technology use as it would be foolhardy to continue to trust certain privacy provisions after appropriate information has been passed across to that effect. Factors to take into account include if the company prohibits improper use of the computing and email facilities, if outsiders are permitted to make use of the computers and emails as well as if the company informed the worker about these rules.
It is also advisable for the company to install pop-up alerts that appears on turning on the computer or when emails are read which clearly informs the worker of his responsibility to remain alert. All these provisions make up for a worker’s expected privacy systems. However, any company that doesn’t have these provisions in place could realise that the workers believe there are certain levels of privacy installed. For instance, a company which enacts a law which states that “communications on the company e-mail systems are not private or secure” but still allows a worker use the email facility for individual reasons and preventing others from enjoying similar privileges could cause the employee to expect his work would be confidential despite the law. This occurrence could occur in a privacy-conscious or privacy-relaxed situation (Smith & Burg, 2012).
Trends for the Future
The judiciary has been hesitant about developing a novel way of tackling workforce privacy in relation to technological advances as they fear that any moves could backfire in the future considering the invention of new gadgets and other yet-to-be-discovered innovations. For example, recently, the Supreme Court could have enacted a new framework for examining workforce privacy corresponding to mobile messaging, but the Court evaded the promulgation of any new decree and instead judged the issue based on the old privacy regulations (Smith & Burg, 2012).
It is expected in many quarters that there would be a rise in the number of cases of worker misconduct for offences such as adversely posting about a manager or organization on Facebook. Thus, lots of people are optimistic about the promulgation of new regulations for judging and examining how much restriction a worker is subjected to on social network sites (Cox, Goette, & Young, 2005).
However, in the meantime, issues related to employee rights concerning technological inventions would most likely be subject to the general laws guiding privacy. It is essential for the employees to have read the company policies, guidelines and codes of conduct concerning any technological device as this would be the first point of call for the courts (Cox, Goette, & Young, 2005). The courts have advised employees to allow their workers enjoy a particular level of privacy, especially concerning individual emails and social network account details even if these sites are visited using a company’s computer which automatically saves passwords. Employees should endeavour to separate their individual and work emails and other forms of technology devices. Equally the employer should take pain to make the employee understand why they have the right to put their emails and text messages under surveillance. One of the employer’s major duties is to keep the office and the systems-in-use safe and in good working condition. In some cases, certain laws like the one against office harassment specifically necessittes this surveillance. In most cases, the courts would uphold this surveillance action if the employer’s actions are rational (Smith & Burg, 2012).
Steps should also be taken to identify solutions from the legislative arm. A number of U.S. senators have scrutinized employer’s behaviour towards privacy and deliberated if new laws are needed. At least one of the legislative houses is contemplating a law which shields workers from irrational requests like social media passwords (Smith & Burg, 2012).
It is quite rational to say that employees should be allowed a certain amount of privacy in the workplace and that employers should be restricted from reading confidential emails. Office computers should have a system that separate personal and office emails to reduce mix-ups or state beforehand that all emails will be under surveillance. Due to the associated risks, such as litigations and reduced efficiency, companies must be strict with their policies and conduct proper surveillance of how their systems are used, ensuring everything is clear to all. Business executives and tech experts should make moves to reduce undesirable effects on their business. Offices where the level of monitoring is high could face a unique set of problems due to lack of trust. Information gathered from surveillance could be mismanaged in ways that could affect the organization adversely (Cox, Goette, & Young, 2005).
This remains a grey area in the law even till date hence it is advisable for the worker to effectively separate personal and official technology use so as to enjoy whatever privacy allowances are available. Any sensitive piece of information that isn’t sure to be kept confidential should not be risked, but kept away from the public (Smith & Burg, 2012).
Cox, S., Goette, T., & Young, D. (2005). Workplace Surveillance and Employee Privacy: Implementing an Effective Computer Use Policy. Communications of the IIMA.
Muhl, C., (2003). Workplace e-mail and Internet use; employees and employers beware. Monthly Labor Review. 2, 36-45.
Smith, D., & Burg, J. (2012). What Are the Limits of Employee Privacy? Retrieved from GP Solo: http://www.americanbar.org/publications/gp_solo/2012/november_december2012privacyandconfidentiality/what_are_limits_employee_privacy.html
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