What Are Your Privacy Rights At Work?
Unlike in your home, your right to privacy at work is much more limited than you might expect. Private employers have fairly broad discretion over what they can monitor, and how they monitor it. Knowing what your privacy rights are in the workplace can help you avoid situations that may cause you to be disciplined or even fired.
Desk, Office, And Computer Searches
Generally speaking, if it’s employer property, they have the right to search it. This includes things like your office, desk, file cabinets, and anything else you may store documents or personal property in at work.
As for your computer, if it belongs to your employer, than they are generally entitled to search it for unauthorized files or use. Courts have found that employees do not have an expectation of privacy in these matters.
If you drive a company car, be aware that they have a right to search that as well.
Emails, Phone Calls, And Text Messages
Your employer can, and likely is, monitoring company emails. Since the email software and/or service is being paid for by them, they are allowed to monitor employee communications.
Employers can also monitor business-related phone calls for quality control purposes. They are supposed to cease monitoring once they are aware that the call is personal, though.
If there is a policy in place against personal calls, your employer can listen to enough of the call to determine that it is personal, and you may face disciplinary action for the call even if the they didn’t listen to the entire conversation.
As for text messages, if your mobile phone was provided by (and is being paid for) your employer, it’s a good idea to assume they have the right to read any and all text messages you’ve sent.
The courts have, in most cases, upheld employer’s rights to monitor employees with security cameras as long as the monitoring is not overly invasive.
Cameras are not allowed in employee bathrooms, changing rooms, or any other sensitive areas where a reasonable right of privacy would be expected.
Always Read Your Employee Handbook
One of the best ways to familiarize yourself with your employer’s privacy policies is to review your employee handbook. If you have additional questions or concerns, you should speak to an HR representative or supervisor.
If you believe that your employer is violating your privacy rights in your workplace, you should first bring the issue to your employer’s attention. If the issue persists, consider speaking with an attorney to see if your situation warrants legal action.
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