Privacy in the Workplace
As society increases its use of technology, we lose more of our privacy. This includes how employers monitor employees. In 2015, it was estimated that about 30% of businesses monitor their employees. For 2020, that number is expected to be 80%. That’s right- this year, it is expected that at least four out of every five employers will use technology to monitor their employees’ emails, texts, social media, and even movements. How are they doing it, is it legal, and how far can it go?
Generally, employers have a right to know about work-related things their employees are doing while on-the-clock. One of the oldest and most common ways employers generally track employees is through the use of schedules and calendars. Some companies use calendar systems that are shared or allow other people access to see what appointments, meetings, deadlines, and other work employees have scheduled. Some companies have employees submit calendars, work logs, or other documentation to show how their work time is spent. In general, this type of monitoring is expected in most work situations and is not generally seen as invasion of privacy.
As more high-tech options become available, the type and scope of workplace monitoring evolves. Employers now have the ability to look at an employee’s emails, messages, internet history, and even keystrokes on company computers. As the software for this kind of monitoring becomes easier to use and more widely available this type of monitoring is becoming more common. Employers who are especially tech-savvy may use more advanced biometric monitoring, such as facial recognition programs to gauge employee moods throughout the day. Workplace video surveillance, which has been around for a long time, continues to develop with more ways to monitor and assess employee performance and moods. The options for workplace surveillance are becoming increasingly affordable as well.
Some types of employee monitoring are legal. Employers are allowed to track employee productivity, including monitoring calendars, work logs, and other documents that show what employees are doing with their work time. Employers are allowed to observe non-private areas of the workplace, whether in person or through video monitoring. Employers are also allowed to monitor what happens on company devices such as computers and company-provided phones.
Some types of employee monitoring are illegal. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act, a federal law, prohibits the unauthorized monitoring of electronic communications on personal devices. This makes it illegal for an employer to monitor what you are doing on a phone or computer that you own unless the employer has your permission. It is also illegal for employers to violate an employee’s reasonable expectation of privacy. This would prohibit employers from using video surveillance or other intrusions in bathrooms, changing areas, breast pumping rooms, or any other place where an employee can reasonably expect to do something private without being watched.
As technology develops, an employer’s ability to monitor employees increases. That also means that it becomes more likely that employers will go too far and overstep, violating an employee’s privacy. If you believe that your employer has illegally violated your privacy, call Gold Star Law to find out if a line has been crossed and what you can do about it.