Thursday, July 02, 2009
Employers’ property vs. employees’ private space
|You provide your employee with a computer, a phone and a BlackBerry. You pay for this equipment, program it, service it and keep it after the employment relationship ends. Of course, you are interested in knowing what the employee does with this equipment: Is he using it to forward pornographic images to co-workers, to text message his friends, to surf the Internet, to access your confidential information in preparation of starting a competing business? Surely, you can monitor the employee’s use of this equipment to determine if the employee is engaging in misconduct, right? Not exactly.
Employee privacy rights are at the core of an ever-changing body of state and federal law. Employees may still have a reasonable expectation of privacy when they walk through your doors, access the Internet through a company-owned computer or make a call on a company-owned telephone. Unfortunately for employers, “it’s my computer, and I can do whatever I want with it” is not the law.
So, what is an employer to do? Give employees free reign over the equipment and trust that they use it properly? Go ahead and monitor employee usage and hope you don’t get caught? Neither is a good strategy.
Instead, consider your business needs and what type of monitoring you would like to do. For example, monitoring phone calls would be of primary importance for a customer-service call center; retailers would prefer to have video cameras monitoring cash registers; and a company doing research and development for new products might want to ensure that no one is accessing trade-secret specifications on its computer systems. Then, learn the laws governing what you can and cannot do. Next, develop a written policy that protects your interests and complies with all applicable laws. Finally, ensure that your policy is applied correctly and consistently.