Business owners and managers have plenty on their minds these days, not the least of which is security. Protecting your employees, your physical assets, and your intellectual property requires constant vigilance, and so does making sure that your employees are delivering the work effort that you’re paying them for. As technology has improved, the ability to monitor what your employees are doing has expanded dramatically, but so have privacy concerns. Balancing your need to secure your profits with the rights of those who work for you has become one of the biggest challenges facing businesses today.

It’s important for you to realize that there’s a difference between having the technical capability to monitor your workers and being legally allowed to do so.  Employees have a federally mandated right to a certain amount of privacy, which means that if you are going to be monitoring them, they need to know about it. If you’re going to surveil your workers, you’re well advised to let them know you’re doing it ahead of time, as this will remove any expectations that they have. Employees who have been warned that their communications will be monitored would not have a reasonable expectation of privacy, especially if their conversations or correspondence is conducted on an employer’s equipment.

Business owners facing a lawsuit for invasion of privacy will have to establish that the monitoring they’ve done was out of a legitimate business interest, in keeping with the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986. If the employee was surveilled while using their personal equipment, an employer will need to show that the employee consented to this level of monitoring.

Employees are also able to challenge their employer’s monitoring of their communications using a common-law claim of invasion of privacy. This is particularly pertinent when it comes to employers sharing their employees’ personal information with staff and co-workers.

Beyond monitoring communication, employers must be aware of the rules governing video surveillance, as well as stored voicemail messages and live telephone calls. Though employers can monitor oral phone calls in the course of business for training purposes, to ensure quality of service, or to protect trade secrets, they are required to stop listening to a call once they realize it is personal unless they have specifically consented to monitoring.

The laws surrounding employee privacy and business monitoring are complex and often state-specific. For information on how best to conduct your business and protect its security, contact us today.