Your employer may be able to read your e-mail, depending on your employer's policies regarding acceptable computer and e-mail use. Most courts will now side with employers on issues of e-mail and computer privacy, unless the employer has a specific computer privacy policy. 

However, most of this electronic probing is limited to company equipment and servers. Employees do not have an expectation of privacy on their work computers or work emails and since it belongs to the employer, the employer is allowed to monitor emails and computers belonging to the workplace. 

Can My Employer Hide Cameras in the Office or Workplace?

An employer can install cameras in public workplace areas for security reasons or to discourage theft. In most states, however, employers cannot install cameras in private places such as bathrooms and changing rooms. Even with a legitimate business purpose for having cameras installed, employers must inform all employees that there are cameras present.

Can My Employer Search Me?

Employers can sometimes search an employee’s workplace such as their desk, office, or other places in the business area because the workplace is considered the area belonging to the employer and employees should not expect privacy in these areas. 

An employer can also search an employee and their belongings if something was stolen or if they work in a high-risk security area where search is required. It is recommended to check the employer’s handbook for any warnings about being search while on the work premises. 

Can My Employer Listen to My Phone Calls or Read My Text Messages?

Employers are legally allowed to monitor business-related phone calls for quality control. However, employers are required to stop listening to phone calls if they are aware that the call is a personal call. If there is a company policy against personal calls being made during work hours, the employer can listen until they have determined that the call is personal, but cannot listen to the entire conversation. 

An employer can read text messages of an employee if the phone is a company phone. This means employees that use a cell phone given to them for work purposes cannot expect any private texts made on the company cell phone to remain private. 

What Can My Employer Ask About?

While many employee rights are protected, there are certain areas where an employer may ask their employee private questions:

 

  • Religious Beliefs: Generally, an employer cannot ask about religious beliefs since the Federal Civil Rights Act expressly prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion. However, if an employee’s religion greatly interferes with the operation of an employer’s business, then the employer may have sufficient grounds to act.
  • Marital Status or Sexual Orientation: You don’t have to answer inquires about personal relationships. If both partners or spouses work for the same employer though, the employer might want to know to avoid conflicting supervision or other problems. Some states may have laws to prevent discrimination on the basis of marital status or sexual orientation.
  • Outside Employment: Employers can inquire about other jobs you may have. If an employee works for a competitor or any other business that may interfere with the employer’s business they may be discharged.
  • Involvement in Illegal Activities: In many instances, the answer is no. However, if the illegal activity interferes with or jeopardizes the employee’s ability to perform their job, then the employer has a right to perform an investigation and, if necessary, discharge the employee.

Can My Employer Conduct Drug and/or Alcohol Tests?

Private employers can establish their own drug policy so long as employees know what that drug policy is ahead of time, the policy is written down and the results of any tests remain private. Since most employment is at-will employment, an employee can refuse to submit to a drug or alcohol test. 

Many union contracts may have requirements about drug tests, but there are certain states have laws that limit the right of employers to drug test their employees. Employees that want more information about employer drug tests should check their employment contracts and their state's employment laws.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

If you feel as though your privacy rights have been violated in the workplace, you should speak with an employment attorney. An employment attorney can help you understand how the law works and can represent you in court and can help preserve your rights seek the remedies available to you.