The right to privacy in the workplace is an interesting subject. On one hand, employers have a vested interest in ensuring that their resources, facilities, and money are not being used for personal or ulterior motives; on the other, employees surely can expect some level of privacy from their employers. This paper explores the debate surrounding the NSA’s spying programs on citizens and focuses on employee rights to privacy in the workplace. This sample essay provides an example of why clients have provided positive reviews of Ultius services.
Privacy in the workplace
The recent scandal that has rocked the National Security Agency (NSA) has reignited the debate surrounding issues of online privacy, citizen’s rights, and national security. This debate has also been occurring in the workplace as employers have to protect their employee’s privacy while at the same time ensuring the needs of the organization or business are met.
The increased use of technology in the workplace has brought a new dimension to the debate as employers are in a position to be able to monitor their employees on a regular basis. The case involving Sidell and Structured Settlement Investment (SSI) brings up an ethical dilemma regarding the right to privacy in the workplace while at the same time trying to protect the interests of their organization.
Full right of access
According to the law, Sidell’s employers were in their full right to access his personal email account if it was available on his desktop computer that belonged to the company. Kesan (2001), found that the courts in the United States do not recognize or guarantee a right to privacy.
“Failure of statutory law or common law in the U.S. to guarantee a right of electronic privacy in the workplace. Unlike Europe, we do not recognize a universal right to privacy or human dignity, and it is unlikely that we will see a legally guaranteed, zone of privacy in the American workplace” (Kesan, 2001).
But experts argue that ethics and laws are not the only things to consider when creating a positive work environment. Trust and respect go a long way in helping employees feel welcome and passionate about their work. If team members feel untrusted, they will not want to commit to the company and work productivity will suffer.
Employee’s right to privacy and poor decisions
However, ethically the employer’s would be in the wrong as they violated his privacy by accessing his personal email. They then used the information that was found in the personal emails to use against Sidell, which further violated his ethical rights in the workplace.
The employers could argue that Sidell should not have been using the workplace desktop computer to check his personal email. Sidell violated the workplace policies agreement that he may have potentially signed by using his personal email during company time and on company property.
The employer would be able to make a good point about Sidell’s personal use of company equipment. Not only does he use the employer’s equipment for his own use but he is also taking away time and money from the company. When he uses the computers for his own personal use his productivity decreases, which could be considered a drain of valuable resources from the company.
Due to this loss of productivity, many employers have begun to justify the monitoring of their employee’s actions on the computer. These actions are not limited to the United States, as Everett (2004) found as other countries have also had to increase monitoring of their employee’s use of the internet in the workplace.
“To limit such potential abuse, employers in many countries have tended toward monitoring of employee Internet activities in the workplace. With a lack of clear guidance on appropriate mechanisms for such monitoring and surveillance, issues of personal privacy have arisen” (Everett, 2004 291).
These employers believe that they are protecting their best interests without accounting for their employees right to privacy.
Email correspondence and company ownership
This justification can be used to excuse the company going into Sidell’s computer. However, they will have difficulty providing a reason to excuse their use of Sidell’s email correspondence with his lawyers or in civil court. This action not only violated Sidell’s privacy but they also used this information in their case against Sidell.
The company used their position as an organization with power to undermine Sidell’s complaint against their violation of his privacy. While the company still had access to Sidell’s personal emails, Sidell did not have access to any information within the company including his own work Outlook email account. This limited Sidell’s ability to defend himself or provide evidence of wrongdoing on his former employer’s part.
Snowden’s revelations and stirring the workplace privacy debate
The recent exposure of the NSA by Edward Snowden has brought the issue of privacy from the political realm into the personal as many individuals begin to question what kind of surveillance the government has on them. This concern also goes into the workplace as employees begin to question when they are being monitored by their employer. As King (2003), found there are many justifications for employer’s to monitor their employee’s actions on the internet.
“From the employer’s perspective, there are many good business reasons to electronically monitor employees in the workplace, including assessing worker productivity, protecting company assets and ensuring compliance…” (King, 2003 127).
However as in the case of Sidell and SSI line between monitoring and violating an employee’s rights to privacy can easily be crossed. This is especially the case when the employer’s personal email contains information that could benefit the company as was the case in this situation. In the future, SSI must take steps to ensure that employees are not using the work computers for their personal use.
They must also take steps to ensure that upper levels of management are not infringing upon their employee’s right to privacy through these monitoring steps. Through establishing clear guidelines and following these rules closely the company can protect themselves and their employees.
Interested in other human resource topics? Read about absenteeism in the workplace and how it affects businesses.
Everett, A. M., Wong, Y. Y., & Paynter, J. (2004). Balancing employee and employer rights: an international comparison of e-mail privacy in the workplace. Journal of Individual Employment Rights, 11(4), 291-311.
Kesan, J. (2001). Cyber-Working or Cyber-Shirking?: A First Principles Examination of Electronic Privacy in the Workplace.
King, N. J. (2003). Electronic monitoring to promote national security impacts workplace privacy. Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal, 15(3), 127-147.