Bartz Law Group

Employee Rights Advocates

The Right to Privacy in the Workplace

Privacy in the Workplace

Technology simplifies work, promoting efficiency– although it can also be used to infringe the rights of others in a workplace environment. For instance, the right to privacy is violated by many employers because they can monitor their employees virtually thanks to technology. Workers in California should have a basic knowledge of California employment law to protect themselves against a variety of issues including privacy.

While monitoring employees is legal according to California employment law, some employers exceed their boundaries and violate the privacy rights of employees.  Among other issues, surveillance aimed at monitoring personal items in restricted areas, such as locked cabinets is illegal.  The following are some common issues related to employee privacy in the workplace.

Internet Usage and Email

Most alleged personal privacy violations occur when employees use company assests, such as a computer, to access the internet, send personal emails, or for other uses. Did you know that an employer has the right to monitor their workers’ emails when company assets are being used?

Monitoring can include evaluating an employee’s performance, blocking malware, or fighting cybercrime.

Employers can also track internet traffic through work computers, WiFi, or via the company’s internet service provider. This right extends to monitoring employees’ online activities by opening the visited websites, blocking some websites, or limiting internet browsing time.

Using the internet incorrectly is considered employee misconduct in some companies and it can be used as leverage in workplace discrimination and wrongful terminations.

Phone Calls and Voicemail Messages

Employers use surveillance to monitor their workers’ phone conversations, SMS, and voicemail messages to establish the loyalty and commitment of such workers toward the business. An employer can monitor an employee’s phone usage but with certain boundaries. According to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), employers are prohibited from monitoring personal calls, SMS, and voicemail. In other words, it’s illegal to monitor your workers’ phone usage. The terms and requirements of ECPA are also applicable to workers’ phone usage at the workplace.

Employers can only monitor workers’ phone usage with the employee’s consent but is illegal to monitor if the employee is unaware. In addition, employees can bring a claim against an employer for accessing, listening, reading, sharing, deleting, or denying access to your voicemail.

Drug Testing before Hiring

Employers have the right to request drug testing on prospective employees, although some jurisdictions have rules for demanding and performing a drug test. Drug testing is limited to:

  • Individuals who have risky duties, such as machine operators;
  • Workers with a history of drugs crimes;
  • Workers who have been involved in a work-related accident where drug use was suspected
  • Workers who show physical signs of drugs abuse, such as red eyes, slurred speech, and others.

The right to privacy in the workplace is often violated by some employers when they overstep the boundaries. On the other hand, some “alleged violations” are within the provisions of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA). An employment attorney or expert can offer more advice on this subject.