The framers of the Constitution devised the Fourth Amendment to protect citizens from invasions into their private lives. However, this amendment is not as clear when applied to the workplace, particularly with frequently changing and emerging forms of communication. There is much debate over how much privacy employees should have in the workplace with regard to their electronic communications, as regulations tend to lag behind technology.

More and more companies are monitoring their employees’ email and internet usage or phone conversations. The legal struggles regarding this type of electronic surveillance are then resolved by examining what type of communication was surveyed, whether a reasonable person would expect the correspondence to be private and what the employer’s rationale was for eavesdropping in the first place. There are legal ramifications and statutes in place to protect employees from electronic surveillance while at work with regard to the various communication mediums.

Telephone Usage
The Electronics Communication Privacy Act (ECPA) establishes limitations to an employer’s right to monitor telephone conversations. Under this act, employers are not allowed to listen or record personal phone calls, even if they are made on company property except in case of the following: the employee has knowledge of the surveillance and has given his or her consent; the communication is intercepted during the course of business; the interception is required to perform a communication service; or to protect the property rights of the employer providing the communication.

Voicemail usage is also applicable under this law. Generally, if you do not lead employees to believe that voicemail is private (allowing them to use a secret password to retrieve messages), then employees should assume that voicemails are for company use.

Employer-provided email systems are incredibly valuable resources for the company and its staff. Email is extremely efficient both for intra-company usage and with clients and business contacts, and is inexpensive to provide, easy to use and requires low maintenance. In spite of these benefits, there are also many dangers concerning employee privacy and the employer’s best interest.

There are several reasons why employers should consider monitoring email usage:
  • To maintain a professional reputation outside and within the company
  • To ensure employee productivity
  • To prevent, detect and eliminate harassment, either sexual or illegal
  • To prevent the risk of defamation does not support. Following are some suggestions for employers to handle this issue:
  • Have clear policies in your employee handbook relating to privacy, investigations and surveillance, including use of email and company-provided electronic devices.
  • Update policies as needed and inform employees of updates.
  • Have all employees read and sign the policy and any updates.
  • Make sure you have a legitimate work-related purpose for monitoring employees or their communications.
  • Know federal, state and local laws regarding privacy and consult legal counsel if you are unsure.

Feel free to reach out to us to seek assistance with any workplace guidance. We look forward to supporting your needs and contributing to the success of your organization.