Employee Privacy Rights

Hey, it’s Dustin Paschal again with Simon Paschal, PLLC for our video tip of the week. Today we’re going to talk about privacy, which is often misunderstood by employees, but we want to talk to employers about how to handle privacy. So specifically, the question we get asked a lot is, what kind of privacy rights do my employees have? Or if an employee asks us, they ask what kind of privacy rights do I have?

Well, in a private employer setting, so we’re not talking about a government setting, or even a union setting, but in a private employee setting, the employee really does not have a whole lot of privacy rights as long as the employer does its due diligence in creating policies. And the overarching theme to keep in mind is expectation of privacy. So, if you as an employer create policies in your handbook or wherever else you have your policies, that disabuses employees of the notion that they have an expectation of privacy in certain things, that is going to be the protection that you as an employer need to search things.

So the idea is put into your policy that employees do not have an expectation of privacy in their emails, or in their telephone calls, or in lockers, if you have lockers. Now something to keep in mind there with some of these pieces that have passwords, like lockers have a combination, or email has passwords, you have to as the employer, get a copy of that or else provide it to them. Otherwise, the courts are going to say that that employee has an expectation of privacy. So with a locker, either give the employee the combination lock that you have the combination to, or require the employee to give you a combination lock, or the employee will think that they have an expectation of privacy. And so you want to go across the board, lockers, cars, email, telephone calls, desks, workspaces, everything and just make sure that the employee understands that they do not have an expectation of privacy in those items when they’re at the workplace and that will protect you as an employer.

One quick note before we go though, on that telephone calls piece. The courts have pretty uniformly said that you can tell an employee they don’t have a right of privacy on the telephone call, but if you as an employer are listening to that telephone call, as soon as you realize that telephone call is a personal or private telephone call, you have to stop listening. You can discipline that employee for violating your policy, but you cannot listen in on their personal phone calls. So just one quick note there. So things to keep in mind when you’re thinking about privacy in the workplace. Always, always, always it goes back to policies and if you have a well crafted policy, you’ll be protected. Thanks!


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