All individuals, no matter where they are, have the right to keep their personal information confidential. Unauthorized access to such details is considered a breach of data privacy and is punishable by law.
In the workplace, however, though employees have specific rights to privacy, these are balanced with the employers’ privileges to monitor their business operations. By law, business owners are allowed to physically or electronically monitor their people within the company premises or while using company facilities and properties.
Though there’s technically no such thing as 100% privacy in a workplace, there are laws that set limitations to protect employees’ rights from abuses or overstepping.
Types of Employee Monitoring or Screening
Any form of monitoring or screening must be in accordance with all existing federal and state laws to avoid legal issues, as well as legal ramifications. Below are the most common methods that employers use.
Pre-Employment Background Checks
Employers can conduct background checks to effectively filter applicants who are qualified and suitable for the job. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) is one of the primary federal laws that govern the collection and use of public records for pre-employment. This law states that an aspiring employee needs to provide written consent before conducting the check, and they have the right to know the results.
Random/Regular Drug Testing
An employee has the right to refuse to partake in a drug or alcohol test run by the company. This is most specifically applicable if the employee is being singled out, or if there are no clear and specific objectives and guidelines. On the other hand, as long as all state regulations and federal laws are strictly followed, employers can legally conduct drug testing and terminate or suspend employees with positive results.
The use of closed-circuit television (CCTV) within the company premises is permitted by the law. Video surveillance in a workplace is legal provided that employees are notified about the filing beforehand. The reasons for surveillance, such as ensuring all facilities are utilized with care and that all assigned tasks are performed properly, must be disclosed as early as job orientation or job hiring. One strict rule about this is, cameras or recorders must only be installed in public places and in areas where employees can physically see the equipment.
Remote Monitoring of Internet Usage
To ensure that the agreed productivity and the service level agreement (SLA) are religiously met, employers install programs that could monitor the employees’ activities while using company-issued laptops or computers. Electronic surveillance is legally allowed to track, block, or limit the access of employees to irrelevant sites or pages. The Electronics Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) states that employers have the right to monitor all activities conducted within all electronic devices that they own and issue.
Phone Calls, Messages, and Emails Tracking
Provided that there are clear business-related purposes, employers can track employee emails, phone calls, and messages. Companies set-up email systems in a way that they can copy, store, delete, or retrieve email threads to check on productivity, possible breaches or illegal use, and more. Emails are now acknowledged as legal evidence during trials. For phone calls and voicemail messages, though employers can install spy apps on company-issued phones, ECPA clearly states that they must not listen to private calls or read private messages.
GPS tracking tools are beneficial to monitor company vehicles, ensuring the safety of its products and its people. This employee monitoring equipment helps in real-time checking of locations and route maps. Installing a tracker on a company transport vehicle is legally allowed provided that the employees are aware of it. There are several laws, varying per state, that govern GPS tracking.
From The Employer’s Point of View
Generally, employers do not mean any harm; they do not intend to intrude on their employees’ privacy. They monitor their employees mainly to ensure that all needed tasks are performed accordingly and that all facilities are used properly. This is to prevent unnecessary damages and expenses on their end.
Moreover, employers wish to guarantee the utmost security and safety of their company documents, as well as of their clients’ information. Remote or electronic monitoring is conducted not only to watch over their employees, but also to monitor their networks and systems. After all, they will be held responsible for any data breaches that occur.
From The Employee’s Point of View
Properly and timely notified employees usually do not have any issues with their employers monitoring their activities while within the company premises or while using company devices. As long as everything is clearly and transparently discussed, most employees do understand the need for such monitoring or screening.
Issues only arise when employees feel like these monitoring privileges are being abused. When not properly balanced, this could make employees feel like they’re not trusted or valued, leading to discomfort which can affect their performances and outputs. Too much and too strict monitoring can also negatively impact their commitment and motivation in working.
It’s crucial that privacy and security in the workplace are well-balanced. Though the Fourth Amendment does not affect private organizations, it’s only ethical that employers extensively discuss these processes with their employees. On the other hand, employees need to understand that they are merely representing the company, so it’s only logical that they behave the way they are expected to be.