We live in a changing world. Employers now must effectively manage the privacy of their company as well as the privacy of their employees. Today, more than ever, employees know their rights, and it is up the employer to manage the many aspects of privacy. Commercial insurance offers some protection in this area as does employment practices liability. However, there are some things you can do in addition to insurance to reduce your privacy risk.
It is important for employers to have a comprehensive set of policies and procedures and to train employees on the following:
Employers are generally free to set reasonable guidelines concerning neatness, dress, appearance, and hygiene. Each state has laws regarding this, so be careful about mandating “strict” restrictions.
Employees could be subject to discipline for off-duty behavior if it embarrasses the company or causes disruptions in providing services. Obtaining information about off-duty activities may infringe on privacy rights. However, obtaining information on public social media sites like Facebook would not generally interfere with privacy rights.
Personal Use of Company Computers and Other Technologies
Employers do have the right to restrict the use of company technology to business use only. Employers also can monitor technology as needed. Employees are given some protection from computer and other forms of electronic monitoring under certain circumstances, such as agreements found in union contracts.
Employees generally have a right to privacy in their personnel records, except in a few specific circumstances. Disclosure must be approved by the employee.
Email and Voice Mail
Generally employers have the right to review and monitor work email and voice mail communications of employees. One exception might be confidential communication with a doctor, lawyer, or other health care professional.
We recommend every employer develop a social media policy and require all employees to follow it. Employers may be prohibited from disciplining employees for social media postings, unless the posting damaged the company in some way. An example might be an employee posting a comment about the owner’s health problems or recent litigation against the company that was privileged.
The information provided is intended to be a general overview of privacy issues. This information is not intended to be legal advice or opinion.