For the most part, phone use at work is not private. When an employee uses a company phone or voicemail system, they are using the company’s property, and the company may monitor use of that property.

Policies may vary widely between employers, so it’s important to know your employer’s specific policy. They will most likely provide you with this information at some point, so claiming ignorance will not be a good defense if you are charged with improper phone use at work.

Employers will often address their employee privacy policies:

Can My Employer Monitor My Phone Conversations?

Yes, as mentioned above, your employer can generally listen to phone conversations you conduct at work. Often, the reason they monitor phone conversations is for the purpose of quality control, because their employees interact with clients and customers on the phone.

When it comes to personal calls, employers are supposed to stop monitoring the call once they realize it is personal in nature. However, this may not apply if your employer has specifically instructed that personal calls are not to be made at work.

California does require notification to the parties to the call that it may be recorded, either with a beep or a recorded message signaling that the call is monitored. However, if one of the parties to the call is outside the state, federal law allowing for unannounced monitoring applies.

Can My Employer Check My Phone Records?

A pen register can be used to record outgoing phone numbers from your extension. Employers can use pen registers to monitor actual phone numbers you dialed and the length of your conversation.

Can My Employer Listen to My Voicemail?

As long as your employer has a work-related reason to question the content of your voicemail, it may monitor the recordings. However, your employer may have difficulty showing that you are not entitled to voicemail privacy, especially if it:

  • Previously stated that it would not monitor voicemail;
  • Gave you a private voicemail account access code; or
  • Allowed you to make and receive personal calls in the workplace.

Can My Employer Search My Mobile Device, Like Smartphones and Tablets?

  • If you are using an employer-provided mobile device: yes, your employee may generally monitor your activity, to include text messages and internet usage.
  • If you are using your own personal mobile device: like privacy policy in general, your employer is likely to have their own policy on this. It may be written in your employee handbook, or provided in some other format. 
    • What is legal in terms of your employer monitoring your personal mobile device is less clear. More people are now using their mobile devices for both work and personal purposes, and this complicates the issue. 
    • Be sure you are aware of your employer’s policy on this. These policies are often called Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies.

The type of business your employer has and the circumstances of the devices usage can also determine what rights your employer have to access your personal device.

Employers may be legally required to access work data found on your personal device. These circumstances can include, but are not limited to:

  • State and federal security breach notification laws;
  • State, federal, and industry-specific regulations;
  • Data security regulations;
  • International data protection laws;
  • eDiscovery and other forms of legal procedure;
  • Contractual obligations concerning data retention;
  • Confidentiality obligations;
  • Client contractual obligations; and/or
  • Trade secret protections.

As an employee, it is important to read your employer’s BYOD policies before participating in the program.

Do I Need an Employment Lawyer?

If you feel that your right to privacy has been violated by your employer, or you have been wrongfully terminated over phone use in the workplace, you may want to contact an employment lawyer to discuss your rights and possible remedies.