Electronic Monitoring and Workplace Privacy

Workplace privacy is one of the biggest issues facing businesses today. Do you feel like you are being watched all the time, all your e-mails being read, and every key stroke is being monitored by your boss? Some people feel this way and that is why privacy in the workplace is a problem with many businesses today. Employees feel like they are not being trusted, or feel the company invades on their personal privacy, or violates their fourth amendment rights. On the other hand many businesses have many federal and state laws to follow, and must keep their assets safe, and their employees.

Technology makes communications of all sorts as easy as a few pushes of a button. This technology makes it easy for an employer to monitor an employee in almost any fashion, from e-mails to video surveillance. This will make it easy for an employee to abuse the technology the company lets the employee use. Employers need and have the right to monitor their employees to avoid legal liability, as a result of harassing of offensive communications, security concerns relating to intentional or accidental release of sensitive data, and for safety concerns for there employees and business assets. Employees give up their right to privacy as soon as they walk through the door.

There is an increasing trend of employees suing employers for the wrong doing of other workers. Some employees believe they should have the same privacy rights they have at home. Employers are responsible for their employees. Employers need to monitor employees to avoid legal liability as a result of harassing of offensive communications. In the case of Schwenn v. Anheuser Bush, Inc. a women printed out her e-mail messages, and used them as evidence in court, to show a hostile environment (Lee, and Kleiner, 2003). When employees communicate with each other inside the office and one is offended by the e-mail; the company is responsible.

A company is not allowed to let offensive communication, or harassing communication, in the workplace, and if there is any, the company is legally responsible. Four employees of Chevron received sexual harassment e-mails from other employees that were meant to be jokes, and Chevron ended up paying the four employees a total of 2.2 million dollars (Lee, and Kleiner, 2003). Businesses protect themselves by monitoring e-mails, telephone calls, and internet usage.

If a company finds any evidence of offensive communication or harassing communication, the company will have to prosecute the employee, by firing, or reporting it to the authorities. Not only will this protect the employer, but promotes a safe and healthy work environment for all. Employers need to monitor employee communications and set rules for usage, and many lawsuits could be avoided.

Legal issues concerning electronic monitoring are not explicate, and a little murky. There are federal and state laws that protect the employee and employer. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) (1986) is the federal law that governs electronic monitoring in the workplace. With this law, as explained by Nord, McCubbins, and J. Nord, there are three parts that protect the employer.

First is the “provider exception.” If the employer owns the telephone, e-mail server or internet services, and provides them to the employee, the employer is protected from employee privacy claims. Second is the “ordinary course of business” exception. With this protection, the employer can monitor employee communications to ensure legitimate business objectives and assuring quality control, preventing sexual harassment, and unauthorized use of equipment.

Third is the “course of business” language. In monitoring telephone conversations, employers can listen in on the conversation, for only as long as it would take to determine if the conversation is private, at that point, the employer no longer is allowed to listen in on the conversation, unless there is permission by all parties on the phone (Nord, McCubbins, and J. Nord, 2006). This federal law states the employee gives up the right to privacy, when at work. This view is upheld in many courts. One such case is the McLoren v. Microsoft, and Smyth v. Pillsbury. Nord, McCubbins, and J. Nord, explain, in the case of McLoren v.

Microsoft, McLoren was part of a harassment investigation, and Microsoft broke into McLoren’s password protected personal e-mail folder to gather evidence. McLoren claimed, the password protected folder was like a personal locker, for personal items. The court rejected the argument, stating the e-mail was first received in the inbox of the e-mail provided by Microsoft and moving it to a personal folder is no exception (Nord, McCubbins, and J. Nord, 2006). In Smyth v.

Pillsbury Company, Nord, McCubbins, and J. Nord, explain, Smyth sent unprofessional comments in an e-mail, from home to his supervisor. Pillsbury fired Smyth. The courts upheld this action, because the e-mail was retrieved from storage at the company owned servers (Nord, McCubbins, and J. Nord, 2006). With these examples of employees misusing company communication equipment, employers must monitor employees to avoid legal liability.

Employers have to monitor employees for security concerns relating to intentional or accidental release of sensitive data. Mohl, shows in a 2006 survey by Proofpoint Inc. “more then one in five outgoing e-mails contains content that poses a legal, financial or regulatory risk…”(Mohl, 2006 p.69). Lee, and Kleiner, show how people v. Eubanks, management found that an ex-employee was giving trade secrets to a competitor after they cleaned his computer when he left the company (Lee, and Kleiner, 2003) Businesses can lose extremely valuable trade secrets to employees, seeking financial rewards, or disgruntled to their employer.

Businesses compete with each other to make products or provide services that match or are better then their competitors. When employees give trade secrets to competitors, they cost the company immeasurable amounts of money in lost profits, or even put a business out of business. By monitoring employees, employers can minimize this threat. Employees say monitoring interferes with their seclusion or private affairs. But when a company has laws to follow and security threats, the only way employers can protect them selves is to monitor their employees.

Employers need to ensure relations with employees are held at a high standard. Company’s need to ensure they have a company privacy policy, addressing electronic monitoring of employees. When a company hires an employee, the employer needs to have the employee understand how the monitoring of employees works, and have the employee understand the rules and regulations of the company’s communications equipment. This will help the employee understand what will be allowed and what is not tolerated. With this knowledge, it will discourage the employees from improper use of equipment, and provide protection for the employer from privacy claims, and security incidents.

Safety for employees and business assets is another concern for employers. Wakefield, states, that an American Management Association 2001 report indicates, “82 percent of responding managers use some type of electronic monitoring in the workplace. As many as 14 million employees in the US (one-third of all employees) are under surveillance in the workplace” (Wakefield, 2004 p.2). Surveillance in the workplace is considered an intrusion of privacy to some workers. Surveillance, such as telephone monitoring, and video cameras, are some times necessary, to ensure employee safety and protection of business assets.

Telephone monitoring is used to help ensure quality service with company representatives. The law is the company has to notify the employee, and person or persons on the phone line, that the conversation is being monitored, or recorded, to be legal. Additionally, company’s keep phone records to ensure employees are not abusing company funds, with to many personal calls, or personal international calls. As long as a company policy exists, this will ensure the employee knows the rules, and will protect the company.

Security cameras are another form of electronic monitoring used to ensure employee safety and protection of company property. Lee, and Kleiner, state that 56% of employees admit to using company time to read and send personal e-mails and surfing the internet on non-work related sites, which leads to loss of productivity (Lee, and Kleiner, 2003). Managers use cameras to ensure employees are productive, and do not waste company time. Productivity is an extremely vital element for a company’s survival.

Cameras are also used for security of the office, or building the company uses. Security cameras are important for law enforcement to identify an outside thief, or even an inside thief, such as an employee. Cameras play an important role in a company’s productivity, employee safety, and protection of business assets.

Privacy in the workplace is a controversy, and an issue businesses and employees will be debating about for a long time to come, maybe forever. Technology is ever-changing everyday, and will allow business, to better monitor employees, and allow employees to do their jobs much easier, and rapidly.

Laws need to change as technology does. When a person is hired at a company, the person loses any right to privacy at work; the company needs to protect themselves, follow laws, and protect the employee. Some of these practices are controversial, but also necessary. Employers need and have the right to monitor their employees to avoid legal liability, as a result of harassing of offensive communications, security concerns relating to intentional or accidental release of sensitive data, and for safety concerns for there employees and business assets.

As long as a company has an extensive, clear cut, and thorough privacy policy, and rules and regulations, this will allow the employee to understand what the rules are and what is not expectable, also how and why the employee will be monitored. Then a company can avoid many of the problems that could occur. The employees will be able to accept the policies, and as long as they do, then there should be no misunderstandings. Additionally, employees need to report any abuses of these policies, so that business and law makers can help protect everyone.

Reference List 1.David S. Mohul. (2006). Balancing Employer Monitoring and Employee Privacy, Workspan, 68-70. 2.G. Daryl Nord, Tipton F. McCubbins, & Jeretta Horn Nord. (Aug. 2006). E-Monitoring in the Workplace, Communications of Theach, Vol. 49, No. 48, 73-77. 3.Robin L. Wakefield. (2004). Employee Monitoring and Surveillance - The Growing Trend, Information Systems Control Journal, Vol. 1, 1-3. 4.Samantha Lee, & Brian, H. Kleiner. (2003). Electronic Surveillance in the Workplace, Management Research News, Vol. 26, 72-82. 5.Tabak, Filiz & Smith William. (Sept. 2005). Privacy and Electronic Monitoring in the Workplace, Employee Responsibilities and Right Journal, Vol. 17, No. 3, 173-190.