Employees typically must relinquish some of their privacy while at the workplace, but how much they must do so can be a contentious issue. The debate rages on as to whether it is moral, ethical and legal for employers to monitor the actions of their employees. Employers believe that monitoring is necessary both to discourage illicit activity and to limit liability. Although, with this problem of monitoring of employees, many are experiencing a negative effect on emotional and physical stress including fatigue, lowered employee morale and lack of motivation within the workplace. Employers might choose to monitor employees activities using surveillance cameras, or may wish to record employees activities while using company owned computers or telephones. Courts are finding that disputes between workplace privacy and freedom are being complicated with the advancement of technology as traditional rules that govern areas of privacy law are debatable and becoming less important.
The EU Directive 95/46/EC on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data limits and regulates the collection of personal information on individuals, including workers. Firms that monitor employees' use of e-mail, the internet or phones as part of their business practice, and do not tell employees or have not obtained employee consent to do so, can in most cases be sued under Article 8 the European Convention on Human Rights which provides for the right to respect for his private and family life. On the other hand, although EU law is clear that e-mail interception is illegal, the law is not totally clear as to whether companies may prohibit employees from sending private e-mails.
The Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 provides some privacy protections for employees. See Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 § Employee Privacy. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act extends protections to include email messages, cell phones and other electronic communications. See Electronic Communications Privacy Act § Employee Privacy.
A 2005 survey of more than 500 U.S. companies found that over half of employers had disciplined employee and about one in four had terminated (fired) an employee for "inappropriate" use of the internet, such as sending an inappropriate email message to a client or supervisor, neglecting work while chatting with friends, or viewing pornography during work hours.
Computers that are reasonably used for personal purposes — whether found in the workplace or the home — contain information that is meaningful, intimate, and touching on the user’s biographical core. Canadians may therefore reasonably expect privacy in the information contained on these computers, at least where personal use is permitted or reasonably expected.
Notes and references
- Howstuffworks "How Workplace Surveillance Works"
- Electronic surveillance in the workplace
- Sylvia Mercado Kierkegaard (2005) Reading Your Keystroke: Whose Mail Is It? Lecture Notes in Computer Science, Publisher: Springer Berlin / Heidelberg, Volume 3592 / 2005, Chapter: p. 256
- Surfing the Web on the Company Dime : NPR
- Makin, Kirk. "Supreme Court rules employees have right to privacy on work computers". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 3 March 2017.