Local News Since 1890 Now Online!

Don’t expect privacy at work.

In Jobs, Opinion, Politics, psychology, sociology, Technology, Uncategorized on February 23, 2015 at 2:49 pm

DIH LOGOPrivacy issues are some of the most complex problems facing Americans today. At home, we enjoy at least a certain level of privacy, but expecting the same at the workplace is, in a word, unrealistic.

According to information provided on the website of the American Civil Liberties Union, “Back in 1928, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wrote that the right most valued by the American people was ‘the right to be left alone.’” The site goes on to complain that private businesses are not limited by the constitution since, “the Bill of Rights addresses only state actions.”

In many parts of the country, advanced workplace privacy legislation is still being hashed out and may vary greatly from state to state. The ACLU has spent countless hours and probably just as much money arguing for workers, but, just for argument’s sake, let’s take a moment to see this issue from the employer’s point of view.

privacyNefarious intentions aside, why would an employer want to “monitor” the communications (phone, e-email, Internet) activities of employees while on the job? Usually, monitoring is performed for the security, legal liability and fiscal stability of the company and its employees. They’re not (or shouldn’t be) doing it to check up on your political affiliations or see how many cups of coffee you’re drinking before noon. Honestly, whatever you might think of yourself, your personal habits just aren’t that important.

With regard to using office equipment for personal communication, as a business owner, it’s not the employer’s responsibility to provide workers with the means for private conversation during business hours. Since the company owns the equipment and pays employees for work, he or she should have a right to monitor how it is used. If that seems unreasonable, consider the following scenario.

Suppose you hire a plumber to repair a bathroom drain. He starts work, then after a few minutes, asks to use your phone or excuses himself to use a cell phone to check in with the babysitter. As a compassionate person, you say, “No problem,” and go about your business.

Since he’s within earshot you overhear him fully engaged in a detailed conversation about something the neighbor did to the dog, which drags into a quarter hour, then a half. You are paying the man by the hour to repair your plumbing and, so far, that still hasn’t happened.

As he is in your home (private property, just as a business would be), using your utilities (if he’s using your private telephone) and you are paying him to do so, would you not have every right to monitor what’s going on and ask him to stop and complete his work? Even if he’s using his own cell phone, he’s still doing it on your dime. Does any of that seem fair to you? Of course not, but workers expect employers to put up with this same kind of situation on a daily basis.

The fact is that employees are there to work, not use the office communications equipment to order Christmas gifts online or have extended personal phone conversations. If there is an emergency, there are likely rules in place to cover those situations and provide a means of communication if necessary.

In order to keep personal communications private at the workplace, most experts suggest using your own mobile phone and (this is a big one) leave the premises to do it — at lunch or break time. To be clear, if you want to ensure privacy (from the employer anyway) never use only a phone provided to you by the employer, but a cell phone registered to and paid for by you.

For workers, expectations of privacy are usually outlined upon hiring or they’re included in an employee handbook, which almost no one reads. Otherwise, a human resources professional can answer any of these questions.

Private communication, whether by phone or computer, should be done on personal time, on personal equipment. From surveillance cameras to keystroke tracking software, an employer owns the property of his or her business and expects employees to at least respect that, even if they don’t agree with it. Ω

 

Gery L. Deer is an independent columnist and business writer. Deer In Headlines is distributed by GLD Enterprises Communications

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: