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What Is Workplace Privacy?

What Is Workplace Privacy?


While all Americans enjoy a right to privacy, the law is clear that people are given different amounts of privacy in varying circumstances. A person should expect to enjoy more privacy in their home than in public or at work. However, that doesn’t mean employees shouldn’t have any expectation of privacy in the workplace.

If you’re a mid-size or growing small business, our professional staff at Einstein HR are here to help you with all your HR needs. This can include helping you decide on workplace privacy policies, as well as ways to explain those policies to your employees. Through a co-employment agreement, we can even handle many of the areas where employee privacy is regulated, reducing your risk of liability.

Workplace Privacy Overview

Workplace privacy refers to the policies your company has in place regarding how employees are monitored while they are on the clock. This includes things like where security cameras are placed throughout your business’s property or how electronic communication is tracked. It also applies to privacy policies that are in place for employees working outside of your office.

Workplace Privacy and the Law

There is no single federal labor law in the United States that dictates what rights to privacy exist for your employees. Instead, workplace privacy is governed by a mix of federal, state, and local laws. These laws, along with company policy, help dictate in what situations employees can enjoy a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Because employment law is so complex, particularly when it comes to privacy in the workplace, many larger companies retain legal counsel to insure compliance with the myriad of federal, state, and local regulations. For midsize or smaller companies without the deep pockets to retain an employment lawyer, forming a co-employment agreement with a PEO is an obtainable solution. In these instances, these companies rely on their partners to help establish privacy policies and monitor legal compliance.

Types of Workplace Monitoring

To be run effectively, a company may need to make sure that their employees are conducting themselves professionally and staying focused on their work. As such, employers may take many different sorts of actions to monitor employee behavior. This may include physical monitoring and digital monitoring. As always, the extent to which this is allowed is dictated by both nationwide and more local laws.

Physical Monitoring

Physical monitoring can include the use of surveillance cameras around the workplace, as well as practices such as requiring employees to clock in or out when they enter or leave the premises. Reasonable searches of an employee’s person or possessions when they are coming or going may also be allowed, but that can be affected by local laws. This right to search an employee’s can also extend to an employee’s desk or workspace.

Digital Monitoring

Companies may monitor certain digital activities an employee undertakes with your business’s equipment. Employers generally may monitor an employee’s use of company email, unless there is some reason for the employee to have an expectation of privacy. Direct monitoring of other Internet browsing is generally frowned upon, though employers may be allowed to install software that blocks access to websites with adult content or social media sites.

The ability for an employer to monitor an employee on the phone is much more nuanced, especially when the employee is dealing with customers. It is generally considered good practice to let both the employee and customer know about any recording that may take place. Again, state and local laws will dictate what’s acceptable.

Establishing an Expectation of Privacy

In many places throughout the country, the extent to which an employee has an expectation of privacy is largely dictated by the employer. In essence, the specific instances where an employee is monitored is determined by his or her employer. Letting your employees know when and how they are monitored can be critical to being on the right side of privacy violation claim.

An employer should have clear, uniform rules for how employees are monitored. Employees should be informed in a reasonable way about how they will be watched on the worksite, how they may use the Internet on company hardware, and if they can expect a search of their person when leaving the premises. On top of verbally informing employees, keeping these expectations written down in an employee handbook is an excellent way to guarantee that everyone knows how they might be monitored at work.

Let a Trusted PEO Help You Establish Workplace Privacy Rules

If you’re concerned about being able to monitor your employees in a reasonable and legal way, we can help make sure your small or mid-sized business is on the right side of the law. We’re available at 770-962-1700 to talk to you about how our HR solutions can streamline your business’s operation. You can also leave a message on our contact page and we’ll be in touch within 48 hours.

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