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Employee Privacy Rights In The Workplace

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Employee Privacy Rights in the Workplace

Employee privacy rights have been the topic of great debate in recent years. This essay will examine: the definition of privacy, employers rights to access activities done in the workplace, to whom the resources such as time and equipment belong, and employee monitoring as an invasion of privacy or a performance evaluation tool. These are the core issues of the employee privacy rights controversy. Employee privacy rights should only be applicable to the personal activities that must take place during working hours. Activities occurring on company time are the property of the employer, and therefore, are not the private property of the employee. Employee privacy rights in the workplace should be minimal.

The common law of the United States of America does not speak directly on employee privacy rights, rather to a tort based on the invasion of privacy. A tort is defined as a type of law that doesn't subject the transgressor to criminal penalty but allows the infringed party to seek compensation (MontanЮa, May/June 2005). The invasion of privacy tort is defined as:

One who intentionally intrudes, physically or otherwise, upon the solitude or seclusion of another or his private affairs or concerns, is subject to liability to the other for invasion of privacy, if the intrusion be highly offensive to a reasonable person. (MontanЮa May/June 2005, p.37)

There are currently no federal laws protecting employees in the workplace outside of this tort (Canoni, Summer 2004). Privacy is defined as freedom from unauthorized intrusion. The courts permit the continuous monitoring of employees, even through video surveillance (Quinn, 2005).

Information produced in the workplace, during work hours should never be viewed as personal. In recent court ruling, a majority of cases where found in favor of the employer due to the employee having no rights to the expectations of privacy (MontanЮa, May/June 2005). The professional responsibilities of an employee are the only activities that should occur during working hours. If an employee decides to bring their personal affairs into the office, the employer has every right to examine them as they would all professional materials. If concerned about levels of privacy, employees should leave personal matters at home. The employer may or may not choose to disregard material discovered if they know it to be of a private nature. There is no obligation for the employer to do so (Quinn, 2005).

What activities that are job related would necessitate keeping them secret from an employer? No actions done for or on behalf of an employer would require the employer to have no knowledge of these actions. The personal or private activities that take place during work hours are the property of the employer. If privacy is protected as a citizens right, then the need for additional laws to protect the employee are unnecessary. Any infringement on privacy rights by an employer would be governed under the Invasion of Privacy Act. The controversy arises from the expectations of privacy of the employee. There is very little to support the expectations of privacy by employees. When monitoring employee activity, the law places very few boundaries on an employer. As stated earlier there are no Federal laws to preserve employee privacy rights (Canoni, Summer 2004).

The employer has purchased the time and resources of the employee. The standard methods of payment for persons employed by another party are hourly wages and salaried employment. In both of these cases the employer normally has an hourly requirement. The understanding of an hourly requirement is x amount of hours spent toward achieving the employers' assigned objectives and work load. The employer has an obligation to its' share holders to ensure that in forty hours work paid for, forty hours worth of work are completed. The time spent on personal matters during the working hours takes away from the employees' productivity. The employee may even be using company resources in addition to their own time to achieve personal tasks.

In today's world a list of businesses using email and Internet as professional tools would be almost endless. For most people email and Internet are an integral part of the workday. The employer pays to maintain the computer, Intranet structure, and Internet connections used by the employee. The cost of technology is considerable. Any execution of personal tasks on the employers' equipment is an added expense on the mounting technology costs. Misspent time and resources are a form of corporate theft.

If an employer has the ability to monitor for theft of time and resources, is there not an obligation to do so? Let's say, for example, that one employee types four personal emails a week at five minutes spent per email. The total amount of time paid for but improperly utilized for a company with ten employees is one-hundred and seventy three hours annually or one month's total working hours for one full time employee (FTE). Looking at these staggering numbers, now consider that the employer has one hundred twenty FTEs; the time wasted is equitant to one additional FTE salary. This doesn't speak to the usage of computers, Internet, and other company expenses. The example chosen is probably an under estimate of the infractions most employers find acceptable. If an employee used the company internet to pay bills or check and respond to personal email accounts the time spent could multiply almost exponentially. According to Lewis Maltby, National Workrights Institute, " At least 10% [sic] of workers spent more than an hour a day on personal surfing"(Quinn, 2005, ¶ 7).

There is also the matter of teamwork.

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