Privacy in the Workplace
What Is Privacy in the Workplace?
Has your employer violated your privacy? Do you have questions about whether you can ask an employee to submit to a drug test? Call today or complete the online contact form below to talk about privacy in the workplace with an experienced employment lawyer in your area.
Like your friends and family members, you spend much of your life at work. Whether you are an employer or an employee, you should understand employment privacy laws.
Employees and applicants have some fundamental workplace rights, including the right to be free from discrimination and to receive fair pay. There are also some basic privacy laws that govern how intrusive employers may be.
Examples of Employee Privacy
Employment law is a vast field of law that defines the employer-employee relationship. When employees go to work, they may have some subjective expectation of privacy. Employers, though, may set policies to disclaim this expectation.
In the workplace, privacy rights often come up in the following contexts:
- Telephone usage
- Internet and social media activity
- Video surveillance
- GPS tracking
- Drug testing
- Professional references
Provided they notify their employees, employers may monitor employee phone calls. This includes calls made and received at the employer’s location. Still, federal law mostly prevents employers from monitoring the personal phone calls of employees.
If employers want to monitor phone activity, they should notify their employees. In some states, employers must notify all parties on the call before recording or monitoring telephone usage.
Internet and Social Media Activity
Employers have broad discretion to monitor the internet and social media activity of their employees. This includes restricting the websites employees may visit, monitoring e-mails and observing social media activity. Employers may also use tracking software to oversee the online activity of employees.
Nevertheless, employers should have comprehensive policies about internet and social media activity. These may appear in the employee handbook, which employers should deliver to all employees and obtain a written receipt.
Private employers have the authority to use camera monitoring to prevent theft, promote safety or observe employee productivity. There are many exceptions under both federal and state law, though.
Employers must notify employees and others about the video surveillance. They can do so by placing a sign in areas with cameras. Furthermore, employers may only capture video footage and not audio.
Employers may not place cameras in places where employees or others have a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as bathrooms or locker rooms. Also, when choosing camera locations, employers must have a legitimate business interest.
Finally, employers may not use video cameras to monitor or discourage employee union activity.
Usually, employers may put GPS tracking devices on the company vehicles their employees use. They may also be able to track the location of employees who are at work. In some states, though, using GPS tracking to keep tabs on workers is expressly illegal. These include the following:
While these states prohibit employers from using GPS technology to track employees, they allow for tracking work vehicles. Consequently, if you are in a company car, your employer probably has the right to know your location.
Drug and Alcohol Testing
For a variety of reasons, employers often choose to test their employees for drug or alcohol usage. Private employers enjoy wide latitude to do so. Drug and alcohol screening laws vary wildly from state to state, however. In many places, state law places limitations on testing existing employees rather than applicants.
In these jurisdictions, employers must have a valid reason to conduct drug or alcohol screenings. The following reasons are usually valid:
- The employee has sustained an on-the-job injury.
- The employee’s job duties are inherently dangerous.
- The employee appears to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
While public employers are usually different, private ones have no legal obligation not to provide employee information. This often comes up in the context of professional references.
Still, employers should exercise discretion when providing any details about an employee. The following information should usually remain private:
- The employee’s full name
- The employee’s date of birth
- The employee’s social security number
- The employee’s work schedule
Before providing any employee information, employers should research the requester. They should also keep comprehensive records about the request, including the identity of the requester, the date of the request and the information provided.
The Process for Filing a Claim
If you suspect your employer may be violating your employee privacy rights, you may be able to file a complaint with your state’s department of labor or whichever agency has jurisdiction over the matter.
Before getting to that point, though, you may want to notify your employer’s human resources department.
HR managers routinely investigate claims of privacy breaches. If an HR investigation does not remedy the matter and an official complaint is fruitless, you may be able to bring a civil claim. Some privacy infractions may also be criminal.
Work With an Experienced Local Lawyer
Privacy in the workplace is a complex area of law. To fully understand it, you must be familiar with federal, state and local rules. Accordingly, if you think your employer is violating your privacy rights, you probably want to have a lawyer on your side. After all, your employer is almost certain to have one.
On the other hand, if you are an employer, you do not want to run afoul of any employment laws. Working with an experienced local attorney gives you the information you need to stay out of legal trouble.
Whether you are an employer or an employee, an employment lawyer can help you understand your legal options. The lawyer you choose may help you reach an out-of-court solution to your problem. If you must go to court, your lawyer can likely represent you through all phases of litigation.
Put simply, you do not want to leave your workplace privacy matter to chance. Submit a request online or call us today at (866) 345-6784 to get in touch with an experienced lawyer in your area!