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Employee Privacy Rights: Is There Privacy in the Workplace?

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Essay title: Employee Privacy Rights: Is There Privacy in the Workplace?

Employee Privacy Rights: Is there Privacy in the Workplace?

“Big Brother is Watching You,” is a phrase taken from the 1984 written novel by George Orwell in 1949. This concept, once believed to be farfetched, may be even truer today then Orwell could have imagined. Given the rate at which technology is improving, the privacy of employees may soon become wishful thinking. Employee privacy rights are being compromised by the advanced technology involving computers, telephones, and video surveillance that is being used in the workplace today.

Employers have the ability to monitor everything done on their computers from personal emails to work related tasks. Employers can use computer software that enable them to see what is on the screen or what is stored in the employee’s terminals and hard disks. Some of the software that companies use to monitor their employees are Surf Control and Xora.

A manager wondered about a workers drop-off in productivity, using Surf Control the manager noticed that the employee was using an inordinate amount of time at a certain website. It turned out to feature hard core porn. The man was conducting research for his escort service, soon after the employee got canned. (Dell & Kullen, 2006, p. 1)

What you do at work is your boss’s business. Employers can even tell how many key strokes per minute an employee types. If you aren’t doing your job your boss will find out. If you don’t feel comfortable showing your mom the site you’re looking at it’s probably not appropriate for work.

Email is a common method of communication between employees in and out of the workplace. Employees view email as private property and should be able to exercise their freedom of speech rights by communicating with their colleagues and/or friends and family. Employers feel that since the email is derived from the company’s computer at work, then they have the capability of monitoring the email. In Smith v. Pillsbury a recent case, the employee was thinking that his email was secure because of repeated assurances by his employer that all e-mail communications would remain confidential; the employee had exchanged e-mail about co-workers with his supervisor and was terminated for the content of the email (Poteet, p. 3, 1996). Since the email contained inappropriate content the case got thrown out of court, even though the privacy rights were violated, the employee’s termination was backed up because it was the employer’s computer. Emails are not private when you are using a company computer. It doesn’t matter if you mark the email private (unless stated in your policy) an employer can still view it and its content. Your emails can still be viewed even when you delete them.

Employees are no longer able to use employer telephones without being listened to by the employer. Although the Federal War Tap Law forbids eavesdropping unless one of the parties consent, another law, the Electronic Communication Privacy Act of 1986, allows employers to secretly listen to “job related” conversations. This basically gives the employers the freedom to listen to any and all conversations (ACLU, p.1, 2003). Employers must hang up the phone once they know that a call is personal unless the employee was told not to use the phone for personal reasons. Employers can argue that it can take several minutes to figure out if a call is personal or if its business related, giving them prime opportunity to listen in. Employers have systems like Nice Systems, which sends an alert to your boss if your voice reaches a certain verbal level, or you blurt out profane language. If you want to talk privately to your spouse or a friend at work my advice is to use your mobile phone.

Employers have access to all phone numbers dialed by an employee and have records for the length of all calls made by an employee. If you are a long winded talker your employer will know. They use a device called a Pen Register which is supposed to be used to evaluate the amount of time spent by employees on the phone with clients. This is unfair to employees because it is unfairly evaluating the quality of service provided to the client by the employee.


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