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Privacy in the Workplace

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What Is "Privacy in the Workplace"?

Privacy in the workplace refers to an employee’s right to expect a certain degree of confidentiality and privacy with regards to their space, belongings, and information. In most cases, a general rule is that the employer can search any space, item, or vehicle that they own. This includes workspaces, desks, computers, and company vehicles, provided that they are owned and provided solely by the employer. Property that is owned by the employee such as a purse or a jacket may be off-grounds for employers and other employees.

What Are Some Common Issues Involved in Workplace Privacy Disputes?

There are also many "gray" areas when it comes to privacy in the workplace. For instance, the following issues may involve different laws and rules depending on the jurisdiction, and depending on the actual details of the situation:

  • Workplace e-mails: In most cases, employers can search company e-mails without the employee’s consent. However, there is debate regarding the status of personal e-mails used during work hours. Also, police usually need a search warrant to search private company e-mail records.
  • Telephone/voicemail: Again, an employee has a reduced privacy interest when using company phones or voicemail services. However, searches of phones and voicemail activity generally needs to be work-related.
  • Work Product: Ownership of work product depends on the agreement between worker and employer. In most cases, the employer or the company owns whatever work is produced by the employee. Again, this can vary depending on the contract between worker and employer.

How Are Workplace Privacy Disputes Resolved?

Workplace privacy disputes can often be resolved through a number of channels. These can include:

  • Human Resources: HR departments can often conduct a workplace investigation to determine whether an employee’s privacy rights were violated.
  • Government Agency Interventions: Sometimes, a violation can be subject to an investigation by a government agency. This is commonly the method of dispute resolution for federal violations such as discrimination.
  • Private lawsuit: This can often be necessary in cases where a privacy violation has resulted in financial losses or a loss of job for the employee.

Again, state employment laws may vary and the type of legal relief will often depend on the particular details of each violation.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Workplace Privacy Issues?

It can often be difficult to understand the ins and outs of workplace privacy. You may need to hire a lawyer if you need help with workplace privacy claims. Your attorney can provide you with legal advice and guidance on the matter, and can represent you in case you need to file a lawsuit.

Photo of page author Jose Rivera

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 01-07-2014 04:54 PM PST

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