Both employers and employees need to know privacy rights in the workplace. Electronic media has given us many new ways of communicating and it seems that personal information is becoming available to the public at an increasing rate. Now more than ever employers and employees must know their privacy rights as access to information continues to increase.
As a business owner, you must develop a thorough knowledge of employee privacy rights. Failing to do so could result in an awkward situation or, even worse, a legal battle.
Understanding Employee Privacy Rights
Technology makes it possible for employers to monitor many aspects of their employees’ day, including their use of telephones, computers, voicemail, and the Internet. In this post, we will examine a few of the basic issues surrounding employee privacy rights in the workplace.
As an employer, you can establish reasonable guidelines concerning neatness, dress, appearance, and hygiene. It is important to ensure that your guidelines regarding personal appearance are non-discriminatory. Each state has specific laws regarding this, so be careful about setting “strict” restrictions.
Off Duty Behavior
Employees could be subject to discipline for off duty behavior if it embarrasses the company or causes disruptions in providing services. However, obtaining information about off duty activities may infringe on privacy rights. Using a public site like Facebook to obtain information regarding an employee’s off-duty behavior would generally not interfere with privacy rights as the employee has published the information in a public location.
Personal Use of Company Computers & Other Technology
Employers do have the right to restrict the use of company technology to business use only. Because of this, employers can monitor technology as needed. Employees are given some protection from computer and other forms of electronic monitoring under certain circumstances, such as agreements found in union contracts.
Employees have a right to privacy in their personnel records, except in a few specific circumstances. The employee must approve the disclosure of personal information found in personnel records.
Email & Voicemail
Generally, employers have the right to review and monitor work email and voicemail communications of employees. One exception might be confidential communication with a doctor, lawyer, or other health care professional.
We recommend that every employer or business owner develops a social media policy that they require employees to follow. Employee privacy laws may prohibit employers from disciplining employees for social media postings unless the post was damaging to the company in some manner. An example of this might be an employee posting a comment about the owner’s health problems or sharing about recent litigation against the company that was privileged information.
This post is intended to be a general overview of privacy issues. Each state and profession vary in the amount of privacy that an employee has while in the workplace. Because of this, you must research to ensure that your company remains in compliance with employee privacy laws.
There are many other issues regarding employee privacy rights such as HIPPA, web searches, psychological testing, video monitoring, and company parties. This information is not intended to be providing legal advice or opinion. Please refer to your legal professional for specific state laws and legal requirements.
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