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Privacy Issues in Workplace Investigations

Lynch Law , PLLC July 21, 2017

Although employers may provide a work site and other property that their employees use, employees do not give up all expectations of privacy simply because they are working for a company. To safeguard their companies, employers and human resource managers must be careful not to violate principles related to privacy in the workplace. 

Electronic Communications Privacy Act

The Electronic Communications Privacy Act imposes some limitations on an employer's legal ability to monitor an employee's use of phones at work. Employers commonly monitor employee phone conversations and voicemail messages. This act prevents employers from monitoring personal phone calls made or received at work unless the employee consents to it. Liability can be imposed if employers prevent an employee from accessing his or her voicemail messages or if they read, disclose, or delete these messages.

Internet and Email Use

Personal privacy laws, such as the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, largely dictate employee's use of computers and email. Emails are typically considered to be the employer's property when employees use the company's computer system to send them. Many employers have detailed electronic use policies that specify that emails and other forms of communication sent over the employer's system may be monitored. Additionally, employers may monitor the websites that employees use while on work computers. 

Consequences for Workplace Investigations

Workplace investigations may implicate some privacy laws. Investigators may review electronic exchanges on personal or company-owned cell phones, computers or email systems, and other data to gather the information that they need to explore the claim. It is important that companies establish clear policies to avoid any inference that employees have a legitimate expectation of privacy in the workplace when using these devices and systems. Additionally, workplace investigations should follow a careful protocol that balances employee privacy in the workplace with the need to resolve workplace misconduct claims.

Cite this article: Lynch, N. (2017). Privacy Issues in Workplace Investigations. Available: