Opportunities to Disturb Privacy California Employers Are Free to Take
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Opportunities to Disturb Privacy California Employers Are Free to Take

Employers can intrude into an employee's privacy in California. Their workers might not approve but there is not a law that takes away an employer's right to monitor their employees or their right to check into workers' backgrounds. Doubts about an employee can lead to a privacy violation. Know the acts an employer is free to do.

There is a long list of opportunities employers in California have to get into their employee's business. During the electronic age, they do not have to be there to do it.

Unless the employer states explicitly in a company policy that the employee will have confidentiality, or that they will be informed if monitored, an employer can look into their employee's actions and words without telling them. Monitoring and checks are a common practice.

Just seven of the opportunities make obvious how much control modern managers can take over a Californian's privacy.

1. Spy on the workplace using video surveillance to keep it secure. According to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a small share of employers that use video surveillance have admitted to using the system to keep track of employee performance.

No consent is necessary.

2. Keep a watch on and record the messages employees get across to another professional using company owned equipment. Phone calls, voicemail messages, and e-mail are all activities a monitorer can drop in on without making an agreement on the use of the equipment at work for communications for business and private life. Both kinds of communications can become common knowledge.

Using a private Yahoo or Hotmail e-mail account at work does not stop the employer. And, voicemail messages stay in memory after a caller or the person called deletes them.

In California, workers that call another worker in the state do have a legal protection. They must be informed a telephone conversation is recorded or monitored. The monitorer must either put a beep tone on the line or play a recorded message that tells the caller the conversation is under watch.

3. Measure the work done by an employee on the company's computer. Computer software makes keeping track of the time spent doing nothing on the work computer and the time spent away from the computer possible. Programs can also reveal to the company's monitor the images and text shown on a screen and the contents of the computer hard disk.

Unions can bargain on a contract to limit the employer's right to monitor.

4. Make sure employees see nothing from websites on a company screen. A software program can block access to sites on the Internet.

5. Produce company reports on the posts that show up on a social networking site that are disreputable for the business. Companies have made policies that limit posts made on sites like Facebook and MySpace.

A company called Teneros made a program called Social Sentry that tracks employees' post activities across social networking sites available to employers in March of 2010.

6. Check into an employee's background. A thorough employment background check that covers both past work history and community life can be done before the first time a new hire walks in the door at work. A Californian who refuses to agree to a background check can lose a job opportunity.

7. Investigate employee misconduct. Complaints of harassment that violates a previous employer's policy can get revealed by an investigator hired by the company to do a employee misconduct investigation when the boss suspects their employee has been involved in misconduct at work. So can a traffic ticket. Even careless stock trading.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act, amended in 2003, no longer makes employers get their employee's permission before starting an investigation.

Note. Pay attention to the company promises to keep employee activitie and communicaiton confidentail that are stated in handbooks, memos, and unioncontracts. The promises are legally binding.


Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, Fact Sheet 7: Workplace Privacy and Employee Monitoring online on February 13, 2012 (1993, revised February 2012).

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