I recently attended a session on privacy in the workplace at the American Bar Association Labor and Employment Conference. Up until now, much of the talk has focused on email, and the trend in the courts has been to find that employees do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the use of workplace computers if the employer has distributed a policy reaffirming its right to inspect its own equipment.
Besides email, there are many other forms of technology that allow employers to watch what their employees are doing. One panelist showed us a radio-frequency identification (RFID) device that a hospital requires its employees to wear in order to track where they are while they are working in an effort to improve patient care. For example, if a patient complains that she has not seen a nurse for 24 hours, hospital administration can track the room history to see if anyone did visit the room during that period of time. Other employers have started using GPS devices to track the location of employees.
This scene easily could be set to the tune of The Police’s stalker song, “Every breath you take, every move you make . . . I’ll be watching you.” Although these devices have the potential to improve efficiency and the delivery of services, they also run the risk of invading employee privacy and deflating employee morale. Prior to implementing a surveillance or searching program, employers should:
1) articulate a legitimate business reason for the surveillance program,
2) use the most narrow surveillance program possible to meet the business need,
3) avoid systems that track employees when they are not working,
4) distribute a policy explaining the type of searching or surveillance utilized, and
5) consult with an attorney for advice specific to the particular program.