Respecting Employee Privacy Rights

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The loss of employee privacy rights in the workplace is a growing concern among employees, lawyers, and civil libertarian groups. Although employers in banks, telecommunications, securities exchange, in hi-tech industries, and in other workplaces justify using video surveillance in the workplace to monitor employee behavior to chiefly promote safety, improve productivity, and stop theft, protecting employee privacy must be a top concern.

If the courts find that the employer’s surveillance methods are less than fair, that firm may find itself knee-deep in lawsuits that could have been prevented.

Employers install hidden surveillance cameras for many good reasons such as preventing theft, promoting productivity or protecting employees. However in some cases, the very systems installed to protect will intrude upon employee privacy.

Legal observers and human resource specialists who study workplace privacy believe that employee privacy intrusions are more common than previously observed, and that they will increase every year.

According to a 2005 survey, more than half of the companies surveyed use video monitoring to prevent theft, violence and sabotage (51% in 2005 vs. 33% in 2001). In addition, the number of companies that use video surveillance to track employees’ performance has also increased, with 10% now videotaping selected job functions and 6% videotaping all employees. Among firms that use video surveillance, 85% notify employees.

As more and more employee groups become aware of how they are being watched, the more likely they will take their employers to court.

These are the four main types of court-upheld privacy violations that could occur in shops, factories and offices and the first type is directly related to video surveillance.

  • Intrusion upon seclusion which includes invading worker privacy in bathrooms and changing rooms;
  • Publication of private employee matters;
  • Disclosure of medical records;
  • Appropriation of an employee’s likeness for commercial purposes.

In addition, video surveillance must be limited to visual images and cannot include audio in order to comply with regional and national statutes.

Employers need to be proactive and aware of these four privacy violations so that their employees’ individual rights are respected and protected.

How to achieve balance between monitoring and intruding upon employees

First, the employers need to clarify what privacy rights employees are guaranteed and what constitutes an invasion of privacy. Then, employees must be notified in writing that video surveillance will be conducted and they should also sign a waiver verifying that they know they may be monitored.

Management must define what is acceptable supervision versus "snoopervision" and that includes not videotaping showers, toilets, changing rooms, smoking areas, and employee lounges. These are places specifically for employees’ personal comfort, health or for safeguarding their possessions.

However, employers must also be sensitive against using video surveillance in other areas where employees might takes breaks.

Employers must be fully aware of the privacy risks associated with videotaping employees so that the likelihood of litigation is reduced. Companies should also nurture a workplace environment where employees can voice privacy or security concerns in confidence with management without feeling that their conversations are being monitored.

In short, if employers choose to use video surveillance in the workplace, they must adhere to written privacy guidelines that will keep employees secure and that will also respect their privacy.

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