Privacy in the Workplace
Job-related privacy has increasingly become a major topic for employees. Both the employer and the employee have valid opinions to what is or should be legal when it comes to privacy at the workplace. Employees feel that they have the right to shield their personal lives from their staff. While the employer, on the other hand, believes they have the right to obtain all information needed because if an issue came up with that employee, they could be the one held legally responsible.
There are several topics that are included in workplace privacy. These issues can range from the recruitment process, the surveillance of the employees, employee technology usages, employee's health, legal concerns, etc. For this blog, I will focus on the technology usage privacy aspect.
Technology Usage Privacy
Since technology has increased dramatically over the years, privacy issues involving technology in the workplace have been on the rise. Employees use technology for job-related and personal reasons. Employers have established policies to avoid any concerns that may take place. Ethics plays a major role in these policies and employee concerns. The main topics I will discuss are:
· Surveillance Privacy
· E-mail Privacy
· Social Media Privacy
Employers have the right to be able to monitor their employees, but to what extent? Some ways that they do supervise their workers could be:
v Checking employee e-mails
v Measuring telephone time spent
v Tracking content, keystrokes, and time spent at the computer keyboard
v Placing global positioning system chips in mobile devices or company cars (Kidwell)
Companies nowadays have power to engage in surveillance of their employees with little restriction mainly because of court decisions. This, in turn, allowed employers to regulate their staff's electronic communications more easily. Many are concerned with this little restriction that the employer can abuse this power.
For workplace privacy in the United States, there is a privacy tort of intrusion upon seclusion that has 3 elements (Kidwell). These are:
1. A reasonable expectation of privacy on part of the employee
2. A legitimate business purpose for the search on part of the employer
3. The imposition (by the employer) is highly offensive to a reasonable person
® Example: Surveillance in employee bathrooms is limited
Companies argue that because an employee is in their place of business and is using their equipment, they have no right to do things that are not work-related so there should be no issue if they want to monitor them or not.
A main use of technology that most employees in businesses will use is their company e-mail. In American workplaces, approximately 70% of all companies provide Internet access to at least half of their company. (Synder) According to the American Management Association in 2005, it estimates that the average employee with e-mail access spends about 25% of the workday checking and sending e-mail. In a 2006 study of workplace communication technology use and misuse, it found that 79% of the respondents use their e-mail to send personal mail at work. (Synder)
An example concerning ethics using company e-mail, is in the case Smyth vs. Pillsbury Co., 1996, the court found no intrusion of privacy when an employer fired an employee because of the content of some of his e-mail messages. It stated that the employer gave assurances that e-mail messages would not be monitored and employees would not be disciplined based on the content within them (Kidwell). Is that ethical that the employer was allowed to let him go? or was it not ethical for the employee to send an inappropriate message in the first place using his company e-mail?
Social Media Privacy
Social Media in the workplace is another increasingly hot topic. In a report a couple years ago, it showed the amount of workers that visited sites like Facebook, YouTube, etc. was at least once per day. That is a little over half of the employees (51%). (Kobsa) Nowadays, companies are providing their employees with an enterprise social networking site, like Beehive. I would think this would help decrease the usage of general social networking sites, but may still be an issue when it comes to distracting an employee from their work.
So the question is, should employers be able to look at the social networking sites you are involved with and hold you accountable for any negative or inappropriate things? If they are allowed, should it only be because you are accessing that content while at work?
An example I found was a story by CBSNews in 2011, where a 24-year-old teacher from Georgia was fired because of her vacation pictures. There were pictures of herself holding alcohol in them. The principal ended up forcing her resignation. She even had her privacy settings on, but the pictures were still found. Was that ethical of the principal to fire her because of what she does on her vacation on her own personal time?
In conclusion, there are many different ways that privacy laws that involve technology usage can be viewed. The arguments by both employers and employees are valid in their own way. In my opinion, I don't necessarily like the idea of an employer going through my e-mail and computer "just cause," but I understand that at work, I'm only supposed to be doing things work-related. If I was fired for sending a personal e-mail that was inappropriate, or looking at sites that were clearly not work-related, I'd be upset but I don't believe I'd have any grounds for legal action against my former employer. In turn, it was me that had unethical actions, not the company who searched my things.
In the case of the social networking sites, I believe it's unethical for employers to use those to hold employees accountable. If an employee has their privacy settings on, then clearly that is his or her own personal content that they are not trying to show the world. As I stated, there are many opinions one way or another on the topic of what is and what is not ethical with technology usage at the workplace.
CBSNews. (2011, February 6). Did the Internet Kill Privacy? Sunday Morning.
Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-3445_162-7323148.html
Kidwell, Roland. E., & Sprague, Robert. (2009). Electronic surveillance in the global workplace: laws, ethics, research and practice.
New Technology, Work and Employment, 24:2. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com.huaryu.kl.oakland.edu/doi/10.1111/j.1468- 005X.2009.00228.x/full
Kobsa, Alfred., & Wang, Yang. (2009). Privacy in Online Social Networking at Workplace.
2009 International Conference on Computational Science and Engineering. Retrieved from http://ieeexplore.ieee.org.huaryu.kl.oakland.edu/xpls/abs_all.jsp?arnumber=528373 5&tag=1
Synder, Jason. L. (2010). E-mail Privacy in the Workplace : A Boundary Regulation Perspective.
Journal of Business Communication, 47:266. Retrieved from http://job.sagepub.com/content/47/3/266