Privacy rights for employees in the private sector are essentially not realized in a legal sense. This is due to the fact that employers must protect themselves, their office, their equipment, any trade secrets, client data and their employees from theft or vandalism. Employers also have a right to prevent employees from misbehaving on the job, committing illegal acts or injuring others, so that the security of the company comes foremost, to the detriment of the individual rights of the employee for privacy.
As a result of that, it means that an employer can implement video surveillance without making the employees aware that they have done so. Most employers however do, in fact, inform their employees, simply as a means of protecting the company and the employee in the case of lawsuits from employees. Generally, the laws in most states regarding employee privacy rights, if any laws even exist, do not allow such video surveillance in areas where reasonable privacy can be expected, such as a restroom or changing area. If an employer has placed video surveillance in an area of the office that you feel is inappropriate, you have the right to question such surveillance practices or even sue the company if you feel that your privacy has been violated. However, the law is more generally on the side of the employer, who, as stated, has the right to protect their company and other employees as they see fit, even at the expense of employee privacy.
While employers can observe employees actions within the office by video, not just what they are doing but where they are going as well, most employers also monitor their employees’ use of office equipment. This can consist of Internet usage, including what sites they visit and any information they may post on websites and/or blogs, as well as phone usage, including conversations and what numbers are dialed.
For employers, this type of surveillance can do more than one thing. Firstly, it provides a cost savings to the employer, as it can act as a theft deterrent. Further, video surveillance of employees can ensure that they are effectively performing their jobs, handling their time on the job efficiently, and working to their full potential for the company. This is the type of behavior that the employer obviously wants to see, but they are also watching for other behavior as well.
For employees, video surveillance can be a friend or a foe. Obviously, for the model employee, being observed while working can be a plus, as this employee exhibits the behavior the company desires. Also, being watched can protect an employee from false accusations of misdeeds or theft. However, for those employees who may want to spend more time playing than working, it’s not as much of a benefit.
When hiring, an employer should inform new employees of any and all employee privacy rights policies. This will ensure that an employee will not unknowingly violate such policies, as some violations may result in immediate dismissal.