Privacy in the Workplace
In today's society, employers and employees are often subject to privacy laws. However, whether or not privacy is protected by law or contract, respecting privacy in the workplace makes good business sense. We will discuss the issues that are raised in today's workplace concerning privacy issues and some of the repercussions. . What privacy issues are addressed in today's workplace?
Because employers need basic information about their employees and employees have access too many of their employer's personal and customer based files, therefore privacy rights in the workplace must be addressed. Some of the major privacy rights issues addressed at many companies are:
Video surveillance (video and audio tapes)
Salaries and Benefits records
Formal and informal personnel files
Practices like the ones outlined above are very common in today's workplace. However, employees still have legal means to assert their rights. Employees may also have enforceable rights to privacy under collective agreements. This the employee handbook should address these agreements. Good privacy practice is not just about avoiding complaints, grievances, or lawsuits. Whether or not privacy is protected by law or contract, fostering a workplace culture where privacy is valued and respected contributes to morale and mutual trust, and makes good business sense. B. What should the company's position be in response to privacy rights issues?
When an employer states a policy regarding any issue in the workplace, including privacy issues, that policy is legally binding. Policies can be communicated in various ways: through employee handbooks, via memos, and in union contracts. For example, if an employer explicitly states that employees will be notified when telephone monitoring takes place, the employer generally must honor that policy. There are usually exceptions for investigations of wrongdoing.
Employers want to be sure their employees are doing a good job, but employees do not want their every move or trip to the bathroom logged. New technologies make it possible for employers to monitor many aspects of their employees' jobs. Unless company policy specifically states otherwise, the employer may listen, watch and read most of your workplace communications. Employers may monitor calls with clients or customers for reasons of quality control. If the call is personal, he or she must immediately stop monitoring the call. When employees are told not to make personal calls from specified business phones, the employee then takes the risk that calls on those phones may be monitored. The company could advise that the best way to ensure the privacy of personal calls made at work is to use a mobile phone, a pay phone, or a separate phone designated by the employer for personal calls. Conversations with co-workers are subject to monitoring by the employer in the same way that conversations with clients or customers are. A device called a pen register can record telephone numbers dialed from phone extensions. It allows the employer to see a list of phone numbers dialed by that extension and the length of each call. This information may be used to evaluate the amount of time spent by employees with clients. Since the employer owns the computer network and the terminals, he or she is free to use them to monitor employees.
If the company uses an e-mail system, the employer owns it and is allowed to review its contents. Messages sent within the company as well as those that are sent from a terminal to another company or from another company to you can be subject to monitoring by the employer. The same holds true for voice mail systems. In general, employees should not assume that these activities are not being monitored and are private. Electronic and voice mail systems retain messages in memory even after they have been deleted....
References: Bennett, Alexander, & Hartman, (2003). Employment Law For Business (fourth Ed.). : The McGraw-Hill Companies.
Privacy Commissioner (2004). Privacy in the Workplace. Retrieved March 18, 2004, http://www.privcom.gc.ca
Personal interview with John McGoldrick (HR Manager, WCI Communities) March 20, 2004
Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act: Subchapter I: Disclosure of Non-Public: Personal Information, (2004). Retrieved: March 19, 2004. http://www.ftc.gov/privacy/glbact/glbsub1.htm
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