Privacy in the Workplace

2055 Words9 Pages
"Privacy. There seems to be no legal issue today that cuts so wide a swath through conflicts confronting American society: from AIDS tests to wiretaps, polygraph test to computerized data bases, the common denominator has been whether the right to privacy outweighs other concerns of society…" This quote from Robert Ellis Smith explains, in one sentence, the absolute need to ensure privacy in the workplace. One of the most interesting, yet controversial, areas concerning public personnel is employee privacy. What limits are there to employers’ intrusions into, and control over, employees’ behaviors and personal properties? There are five major areas which trigger privacy matters in the area of public sector employment: background checks, cognizance of off duty conduct and lifestyles, drug testing, workplace searches, and monitoring of workplace activity. Of these five, the fifth area of privacy, monitoring of workplace activity, is the most controversial. The reason for this is the advance of technology. These conflicts open anew the basic questions as to what is private, what is propriety, what legal rights an employee possesses, and what an employee’s obligations and responsibilities are within the sphere of public employment. Privacy has been defined as "the claim of individuals, groups, or institutions to determine for themselves when, how, and to what extent information about them is communicated to others". The privacy claims of employees can vary in terms of the privacy interest involved and the conception of a need for privacy. In terms of background checks, the issue of autonomy is presented. Autonomy involves ones own personal and individual liberties. Autonomy embraces areas of central life choice and lifestyle that are important in terms of individual expression, but irrelevant to an employer and of no public concern. It has been associated with marital and other intimate relationships, home and family life, and association and reproductive choices. Employees have raised issues of employer intrusion into this area where the employer makes employment decisions on the basis of something in an employee’s personal history, or conditions employment on appropriate responses to inquires about personal activities which are not job-related. An employer may have interests which permit some limited intrusion into this area, if the behavior involves m... ... middle of paper ... ...duals from fear, abuse and annoyance when it upheld the constitutionality of 47 U.S.C. 233, which makes the communication of obscene or harassive phone calls a federal crime. Employers have no less a responsibility. The responsibility is reinforced through anti-discrimination statutes like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which has been interpreted to prohibit direct harassment and creation of hostile environments in the workplace. The U.S. Constitution gives substantial protection to privacy in the home, but not where Americans make a living. To make up for federal inadequacy, some states have enacted their own privacy statues. Federal law takes precedence, but where state laws provide greater protection, employers are usually subject to both. Several states have banned various activities, including the paper-and-pencil honesty test, which have not been scientifically validated. No state gives strong privacy protection to workers using e-mail, voice mail or telephone, nor does any state prohibit intrusive psychological testing. Unless or until national workplace laws can be passed, state laws will continue tp provide only spotty overall support for worker privacy.

More about Privacy in the Workplace

Open Document