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Employee Privacy during off-Work Hours

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Can My Employer Monitor My Conduct When I'm off the Clock?

Generally, the answer to this is no. Outside the workplace, right to privacy laws tend to be very solid and an employer generally has to have a very good reason for even asking about any information about your personal life. All states have laws that protect the privacy of individuals, and some states have laws that specifically say that an employer cannot look into the lawful private conduct of employees during off-work hours. This means that not only does state laws forbid an employer from entering an employee's house or tracking their movements through wearable technology without the employee's permission, but that an employer cannot even ask an employee about his personal life unless the employee brought it up first.

What Laws Protect Non-Work-Related Activities?

There are state and federal laws that protect certain non-work related activities, as well as certain beliefs and other aspects of your personal life:

  • Religious/political activities - An employer cannot inquire about an employee's religious or political beliefs or activities. However, an employee cannot just come into work preaching his beliefs and harassing his fellow employees; in that type of situation, the employer can take disciplinary action.
  • Unions - An employer cannot spy on employees who are trying to form a union or who are in a union. Also, employers cannot send other employees to spy on union meetings. This is because employee participation in unions is protected under the National Labor Relations Act.
  • Marital Status - This can be a tricky area. Generally, an employer cannot inquire about your marital status, and especially cannot inquire about anything really personal such as your sex life. However, when it comes to distributing benefits, you may be required to inform your employer as to your marital status inasmuch that your status impacts the benefits that you are eligible for. In addition, your employer may legally decide to terminate you or not hire you if your spouse is working for a rival company, as it may put privacy of the company's trade secrets at risk.
  • Moonlighting - For the most part, there is nothing wrong with an employee working two jobs. However, if you are working for the competition, your employer has the right to terminate your employment.
  • Illegal conduct - Generally, an employer cannot terminate an employee based on illegal conduct outside of work. The exception to this is if the employee's illegal conduct interferes with his work. 

Should I Contact an Employment Lawyer?

First, you will probably want to try to resolve the conflict within the workplace by means of whatever procedure is set out in your employee handbook for filing a complaint. If that does not work, you may want to consult an employment lawyer. Your attorney can advise you of your rights and let you know if you would be entitled to any damages in a lawsuit against your employer.

Photo of page author Kristen Johnson

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 09-30-2016 03:05 PM PDT

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