Contact us at 410 535 6100 or info@ferrantedill.com

Reasonable Expectation of Privacy in the Workplace

Reasonable Expectation of Privacy in the Workplace

            We can all admit to a little passive social media scrolling or Amazon browsing in the middle of our workday. Maybe even a personal phone call or two. But what can we expect in the way of privacy when it comes to such actions? Are our employers allowed to monitor all of our browsing history or listen in to our phone calls?

We know from watching the news that what constitutes an invasion of privacy has become an increasingly gray area as technology and social media continue to expand. Things get a little grayer when we are talking about privacy in the workplace. When employees are using company infrastructure (computers, phones, printers, Wi-Fi, etc.) or even using their own personal equipment but on company property, does that mean they are subjecting themselves to constant monitoring from their employer? And what information do employers have the right to monitor? Can they see personal information like emails or passwords?

In short, what can a Maryland employee reasonably expect from their employers when it comes to their privacy at the workplace? Read on to find out more.

Privacy Policies at Work 

In the civil workforce, the formation and inclusion of a privacy policy is completely dependent on the business owner. At the start of a new business venture, or perhaps when the management changes hands, privacy policies should be clearly outlined and, if applicable, included in an Employee Handbook. State and Federal Government workplaces are a little different. These employers have sanctioned privacy policies upheld by the Fourth Amendment. In either case, when there is an established privacy policy, employees should be made aware of it and asked to agree to or reject it upon hiring. Once an individual signs on to work at a company, it is understood that this individual accepts all clauses as outlined in the privacy policy.

So, what’s Reasonable Expectation of Privacy then? 

Excellent question. Despite having agreed to and being familiar with your company’s privacy policies, there may come a time when you as an employee feel your employer overstepped and your privacy was unnecessarily invaded.

Let’s come back to your harmless habit of Facebooking and checking in with your spouse to discuss dinner plans for the evening, all while on company time. In these instances, you were utilizing a company computer and phone. Nonetheless, you have a reasonable sense of privacy. Come to find out, your employer has been keeping tabs on your browsing habits and tracking your incoming and outgoing phone calls.

This is where reasonable expectation of privacy comes into play. Reasonable expectation of privacy means that a person who unreasonably compromises another individual’s privacy can be held liable for that intrusion. In other words, it applies to a person’s “right to be left alone”, even at the workplace. However, this element of privacy law has its limitations.

While the company cannot store or in any way track your personal information or listen in to private conversations, it can monitor your activity enough to bring you up on disciplinary action if you are in violation of company policies that may limit such activities. For example, the company may maintain the right to record and monitor any phone call that pertains to the business; it cannot record your private conversations. It can listen in long enough to determine it’s a private conversation, but your reasonable expectation of privacy means they have to hang up once they’ve established it is not company-related. Additionally, the company can keep track of how many personal calls you make in a day/week/month and call you out on it if it happens too frequently.

We can help!

Reasonable expectation of privacy is a delicate balance between maintaining an employee’s basic rights to privacy and protecting the company’s interests. If you are an employee and feel your privacy has been violated, first check in with human resources or read through your Employee Handbook to be sure there isn’t an established company policy on the matter. If you’re an employer be sure to work closely with human resources, your IT department and even an Employment Law expert to be sure your policies and procedures are compliant with state law.

The Employment Law attorneys at Ferrante, Dill and Hisle, LLC are here to help! David Hisle has experience in all aspects of Employment Law and on both sides of the fence, too! Whether you’re an employee or an employer, we’re here for you.  Give us a call today at (410) 535-6100 or send us an email to info@ferrantedill.com.