As Technologies Evolve, Employee Privacy Issues Proliferate

In our increasingly information-based economy, many workers' daily output can be summed up in a tally of keystrokes. At the same time, employee's social lives and personal interests are fed by a steady stream of glimpses and tweets from friends and media sources. The simple reality is that the divisions between personal life and the workplace have never been fuzzier, and the implications for labor and employment law are significant.

Americans' adaptation of iPhones, BlackBerrys and other smart phones has brought constant connectivity and recordability to every minute of the day, particularly among the latest generation to enter the workforce. As social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter become an increasingly important part of doing business, employers and employees alike face unexplored questions about identity, intellectual property and productivity.

A few examples of potential employee privacy issues that did not exist for previous generations include:

  • Employer access to personal e-mails from a Gmail, Yahoo! or other web-based account generated on a work computer
  • An employee's right to electronically record performance reviews or other work-related meetings or events
  • Workplace policies regarding use of personal cell phones for business purposes
  • Personal opinions of employees posted on social media sites, Internet opinion forums and widely accessible locations
  • Monitoring of web browsing habits of contractors or employees, including allegations of accessing pornography
  • Disclosure of an employee's personal information, including issues relevant to professional licensure

Employment law disputes that result from these issues can take many forms, from wrongful discharge lawsuits to qui tam claims involving whistleblower retaliation. Employees may quickly realize that in-house solutions to their situation via human resources will not serve their purposes.

An employment attorney can provide targeted advice about workplace use of telephones, voice mail, computer networks and other means of communication under existing employment statutes and case law. As new issues emerge, a labor and employment lawyer can help an employee assert his or her rights, mediate with employers and explore all options for a fair settlement or a just result.