The issue of employee’s rights of Privacy has taken importance in recent years, especially after the advent of newer technologies that can secretly monitor employees and cast net of surveillance over their actions. Employees are monitored on their telephone and Internet uses, number of keyboard inputs they register and their productive and non productive time in the work-hours. However, most of such monitoring is unregulated, and done without informing the employees and therefore they spark a debate on the employees rights of privacy (Workplace Privacy, 2007).
A survey reported in Workplace Privacy (2007) says that “Three-fourths of employers monitor their employees’ web site visits in order to prevent inappropriate surfing. And 65% use software to block connections to web sites deemed off limits for employees. About a third track keystrokes and time spent at the keyboard. Just over half of employers review and retain electronic mail messages” It is important therefore for both employers and employees to know their rights, in monitoring and in protecting their rights of privacy respectively.
The issue becomes complex and controversial as there are hardly any established laws and procedures for determining the legal extent of monitoring in the private sector companies (Employees workplace privacy rights, 2007). Private sector companies argues that owing to their huge infrastructure cost and sensitive nature of information sharing, they are compelled to monitor their employees.For example its permissible under most of the state laws and in the federal laws for employers to monitor the telephonic conversation of employees, record the conversation, monitor the email content and look what are the employees are doing on their terminal (Workplace Privacy, 2007). However, it is increasingly becoming complicated to fire employees on misuse of Internet, phone or email, or any other company utility and equipment unless the policy has been clearly stated to the employees beforehand.Also its not always easy for employers to challenge and violate the fundamental privacy rights of employees. For example, its not permissible to monitor employees in their changing rooms or other private places.
As reported in the Employees workplace privacy rights (2007) “In a couple of related workplace privacy lawsuits won by employees, employers claimed drugs as the reason they secretly videotaped employees in company locker rooms.But, instead of revealing illegal drug use or sales, the hidden cameras embarrassingly exposed employees changing their clothes. In so many words, the courts found this to be a blatantly disrespectful privacy invasion”. Therefore to protect the rights of privacy of employees in the working place, the Employees Privacy of Bill Act (2007) clearly mandates companies to (a) obtain consent from employees for acquiring their personal information (b) Any form of surveillance must be disclosed to employees as such surveillance would be considered voyeuristic. c) Protection of employees’ information, from outside entities (d) Ensuring there is no misuse of employees’ health and medical data. It is clearly stipulated that “The offering of health insurance is a competitive business decision, which involves certain risks and therefore a n employer should have the burden of showing that the information it seeks about an employee’s medical history, or recreational and lifestyle choices, is directly related to the work he/she was hired to do, and not to his/her real or imagined impact on health insurance premiums