Privacy with Regards to Electronic Communication in the Workplace
Given the rise of electronic communication, it is not surprising that privacy with regards to communication such as emailing, texting, or social networking, has become a very big issue. Probably the most prominent area relating to electronic privacy is consumer privacy. Stories about Google or Facebook’s privacy policies are front-page news. However, although it perhaps receives less attention, electronic workplace privacy is just as big an issue.
Workers communicate at work using various devices. Some workers rely on a computer to send emails. Other workers may favor ...view middle of the document...
It is in the best interest of companies to have knowledge of what their employees are doing online and what they are communicating. Otherwise, they leave themselves open to lawsuits (from a disgruntled customer or a harassed employee) negative publicity that could impact the company’s bottom line, or misuse of company information, among other negative events. One example of a company that experienced the consequences of employee misuse is Chevron. One of their employees sent out a series of emails relating to “Why Beer is Better than Women”. A female Chevron was offended, and successfully sued the company for not monitoring the offensive emails.
In order to avoid conflicts and misunderstanding, as well as protect themselves from some of the negative consequences already discussed, companies should formulate and communicate a clear and detailed electronic communication policy. These policies should explain to employees that workplace communication is not confidential. Additionally, it is essential, if companies use surveillance systems to monitor employee communication, that they disclose this fact. Otherwise, any information resulting from the surveillance is inadmissible in court. If a company decides to allow employees occasional personal use of machines, it needs to clearly identify what is and what is not acceptable in terms of Internet, email, and phone use.
Companies need to be sure that they are not too draconian with their electronic communication policy. Too much looking over employee’s shoulders has actually been shown to reduce productivity and morale. For example, while some companies may decide to block Internet use entirely, in many cases this is not practical because employees require the Internet to do their job effectively. Companies might consider blocking particular sites, but even this could prove to be somewhat difficult. For example, an employee might use Facebook as an efficient way of communicating with professional contacts. However, this does not mean that developing a policy is too complex and a waste of time. Companies just need to carefully think about various factors such as the law, the types of employees that they have, and security issues, and do their best to come up with a policy that fits.
One of the main problems in terms of formulating a good electronic communication policy is that many of the laws relating to privacy in the workplace are antiquated. There are very few cases or laws (especially at the Federal level) that address workplace privacy with regards to electronic communication. A lot of laws and cases were formulated or decided a number of decades ago, before emails and smartphones existed. Therefore, they are often not applicable to privacy conflicts that arise in the modern workplace.
Recently, however, cases related to employee privacy with regards to electronic communication at work, have begun to be heard at various levels of the U.S Court System. Managers should be cognizant of...