Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Ethics Involving Privacy Issues

Ethics Involving Privacy Issues Related to Job Recruitment,
Surveillance, and Employee Lifestyle Choices
Margaret Johnson

Privacy Issues
          Privacy issues at the workplace have become a major concern because employees are unaware what is actually considered private of theirs. As I elaborated before, there is misinterpretations of what is considered ethical when "invading" the privacy of another. In an earlier post, I spoke about privacy issues dealing with technology, mainly with surveillance, e-mail, and social media privacy. In this blog post, I will be discussing other major concerns that involve ethics like:
  • Recruitment Process
  • Surveillance (at the workplace, not through technology)
  • Employee Lifestyle Choices

Recruitment Process
          When applying for a new job, what information is the potential new employer allowed to obtain from you? During a typical recruitment process, potential employees will have to disclose a lot about themselves. There are many different things a employer could ask for from an applicant:
v  Background Information
v  Fingerprinting
v  Drug/Medical Testing

          Although most applicants wouldn't blink an eye to give over their social security number for a background check, they may be more hesitant towards getting fingerprinted or having different drug or medical screenings. Depending on the job that a person is applying for, some of these items may seem farfetched for an employer to ask for. I would feel like it's unethical of someone to ask me to get fingerprinted or have an AIDS test, even if I didn't have anything to hide, for a normal office job.
          Since drug use around the nation has continued to grow, so does drug testing at the workplace. When compared to other employees, drug abusers will have 3 and 1/2 times as many accidents on the job, will be absent for a week or more 2 and 1/2 times as often, will file 5 times as many workman's compensation claims and cost employers 3 times as much in medical benefits. (Wall, 2011) According to this data, I believe employers are being ethical when they ask an applicant for a drug test prior to employment. It doesn't necessarily mean that they will not choose that applicant, but it will allow them to gain knowledge and prepare for liabilities down the road.
         
Surveillance
          Surveillance is another major topic in privacy issues. Is it ethical or unethical for an employer to monitor their employees at any given time? Although technology is a big aspect of surveillance, in this post, we're dealing more with the surveillance of employees persons in the workplace. This could include, but not limited to:
v  Use of surveillance cameras
v  Searches
v  Monitoring on/off the job
v  Access to employee records

          In a 2006 survey of US companies, it found that nearly 75% of them monitor worker communications and on-the-job activities. (Ball, 2010) Surveillance at work is a necessity of working life. Controversies arise when:
£  Employee monitoring goes beyond what is reasonably or necessary
Ø  Employers use intrusive monitoring to delve into the lives employees lead outside of work
£  When they demand exacting and precise information as to how employees use their time
£  When the application of monitoring compromises working practices and negatively affects existing levels of control, autonomy and trust (Ball, 2010)
         
          Surveillance of an employee off their job is becoming a growing concern. It is acknowledged that the Internet is largely responsible for an increase in employee monitoring in the last five years. (Ball, 2010) Now that social media sites like Facebook and Instragram are becoming more popular, it's easier for pictures and posts to be made aware and become an issue with your employer.
          There are reasons that employers will monitor their employees. I believe that it is ethical if they are doing so for the following reasons:
£  To maintain productivity and monitor resource use by employees
£  To protect corporate interests and trade secrets
£  To protect themselves against legal liabilities (Ball, 2010)

Employee Lifestyle Choices
          Employees have personal lives out of work, but what they do out of the job, should that be reflected on their current position? As stated above, social networking sites have made it easy to access an employee's personal life without even asking them. What an employer finds on these sites, or in person, should they be able to hold that against the employee and reprimanded them in some way?
          In an article from the New York Times, it states that in recent rulings, the National Labor Relations Board says workers have a right to discuss work conditions freely and without fear of retribution, whether it's at the office or on a social networking site. (Greenhouse, 2013) This means that regardless of what an employee may say on their own time, they shouldn't be fired or reprimanded because of it. This has also opened up doors that employee's shouldn't be punished for positing things that damage their own reputation.

Conclusion
          In conclusion, there are several gray areas when it comes to a person's privacy during and once they enter the workforce. Although we are entitled to our own privacy, most of those issues are overlooked when it comes to background checks, drug testing, and surveillance on the job. Depending on the line of work that you are in or the type of reputation you must uphold outside of your job, surveillance of your lifestyle choices may come into effect as well. All of these issues raise the question of whether or not it's ethical to pry into someone's personal life like that. Although in most cases it is legal for an employer to do so, it can still fall under the gray area of ethical. I believe that it depends on the job to determine how much privacy should be invaded of an employee.

Works Cited
Ball, Kristie. (2010). Workplace surveillance: an overview. Labor History, Vol. 51, No. 1, 87-  106. Retrieved from   http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00236561003654776

Greenhouse, Steven. (2013, January 21). Even if It Enrages Your Boss, Social Net Speech Is           Protected. The New York Times. Retrieved from        http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/22/technology/employers-social-media-policies-         come-under-regulatory-scrutiny.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1&

Wall, Patricia S. (2011). Drug Testing in the Workplace: An Update. Journal of Applied          Business Research, Vol. 8, No. 2, 127-132. Retrieved from           http://www.cluteonline.com/journals/index.php/JABR/article/view/6175/6253

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