Employee Privacy: Things You Should be Aware of

Employees have certain rights when it comes to safety and privacy at the workplace. While employers can monitor employees to a certain degree to ensure productivity is not affected, the laws do not allow employers to collect personal and private information about employees without their prior consent.

This blog is aimed at both employers and employees to promote a better understanding on employee privacy.

Understanding Employee Privacy

Employee privacy includes an employee’s personal information and activities at work. Employers are not allowed to obtain or disclose an employee’s personal information to a third party without prior consent. Employers are also prohibited from obtaining or keeping a record of employees’ personal characteristics, family or friends.

Employers can only release confidential information about their workers to law enforcement agencies during a legal investigation. Sensitive information such as social security numbers, bank account details, home address, and medical conditions should not be shared with anyone.

Electronic Monitoring

Employers are allowed to monitor the activities of their employees at work within reason. This includes monitoring of employee phone, computer, and email usage, or employee usage of any other equipment at work. Employers must clearly communicate the activities that are being monitored. They should let their employees know in advance the areas where they should not have any expectation of privacy.

Camera Monitoring

Public and private companies are allowed the use of cameras to record their employee activities on company premises. However, the company must disclose the monitoring equipment to the employees and obtain written acknowledgement of the policy from each worker. Cameras are forbidden in restrooms or areas where employees change clothes.

Drug and Alcohol Testing

Drugs and alcohol are permitted within some organizations. A business can ban them in case the drugs negatively affect employee performance or cause harm to any person. For example, can be prohibited on a site where the workers operate dangerous machinery that requires perfect hand to eye coordination.

Employers are allowed to test their workers for alcohol or controlled substances. However, the results of these tests cannot be released legally. Businesses are required to have a clear policy on drugs and alcohol possession and usage. The policy must be communicated in advance to employees before any actions are taken.

Personal Searches

Businesses are allowed to make a policy where they can search an employee, his or her workspace, locker, or car if it is on company’s property. The employee should be aware of this policy, and must give a prior written consent before being searched by the organization.

Employer’s Right to Manage and Employee’s Right of Privacy

Privacy rights at work are complex and often changing due to evolving business practices and technology. Employers have many legitimate requirements about obtaining personal information from their workers. Bank account details, home address, and SSN being a few obvious examples.

Businesses also need to ensure that employees are performing their job duties as required. Electronic monitoring and video surveillance are necessary and allowed by law.

However, the ideal condition is when employers keep their monitoring and employee surveillance to a minimum. The possibility that one employee might do something harmful to the business does not justify treating all employees harshly. Security and surveillance measures that are too tight can often leave employees feeling harassed.

Whether you are a business looking to implement monitoring and data recording policies for employees, or an employee who wants to understand and protect your privacy rights, you would do well to get in touch with an experienced legal firm that can help you with the situation at work.