The 21st century has ushered in the latest and increasingly sophisticated technology. The improved technology may be viewed as either a blessing or a curse in the modern business environment. Such sophisticated monitoring technologies enable organizations to conduct basic business transactions, launch investigations, avoid liability as well as achieve significant success in an increasingly competitive economic environment.
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Workers also derive some benefits when such monitoring provides immediate feedback and discourages any unethical activities. However, the same improved technology allows the company to closely monitor every activity within the business. Such a trend is problematic since excessive or unreasonable monitoring can invade a worker’s reasonable privacy expectation, thus lowering their morale. It may even lead to employees instituting lawsuits against the organizations.
Art Lambert, Technology in the Workplace A Recipe for Legal Trouble
Employee privacy has taken center stage over recent years. The modern workplace environment cannot be complete without a computer. This makes their potential for abuse to be much higher, and the enactment of the Patriot Act means that these computers can be commandeered at the slightest chance by the concerned authorities (Lambert Para.2). An extensive workplace policy that is specific on what employees can or cannot do on the workplace computers is a proven way to deter any abuse or misuse of company computer hardware.
Courts of law have typically asserted that employees do not have any reasonable expectations of individual privacy when making use of technology provided by the employer. The best way to avoid such lawsuits is to alert the employees that they are constantly being monitored. These same warnings are applicable when it comes to company-issued laptops, phones of any other wireless devices (Lambert Para.5).
Instant messaging is an ambiguous area that ought to be carefully examined. A 2004 workplace IM and E-mail survey showed that close to 80% of the organizations that were surveyed had enacted a comprehensive e-mail policy, but just 20% had gone ahead and issued a policy that addressed the use and content of instant messaging services and applications. Even though instant messaging is potentially beneficial, it still exposes the company to all manner of risks (Lambert Para.11).
Jon Hyman, Who Owns Personal Email on an Employer-Issued Smartphone?
According to Lazette v. Kulmatycki, an employer does not have the right to access an employee’s personal email that has been accessed through the company phone or device. The Stored Communications Act expressly prohibits any unauthorized access to personal emails or other internet accounts. The case raised significant practical considerations that touch on the risks organizations are taking with the use of mobile devices to conduct both personal and official duties. Under this particular Act, personal data is classified as sacred (Hyman Para.2).
Simply informing employees that they do not possess any expectation of privacy when it comes to a company-owned mobile device does not exempt the organization from a claim based on the stored communications act claim (Hyman Para.4). To avoid such legal implications, when an employee hands in his or her company-issued mobile device, it is advisable to wipe it clean of any personal data or information.
Jesse Jauregui, Electronic Misconduct What Liability Exists for Employers
A good number of workers within the U.S. use company-owned devices to access their personal email or other internet-based accounts. With the most recent controversies that touched on senior state department officials using computers to access or even purchase adult material, there is renewed interest amongst managers on how they can effectively regulate internet access while at the workplace (Jauregui Para. 2).
Companies are supposed to consider key statutes that guard the workers’ privacy rights that are enshrined in the enacted Electronics Communications Privacy Act. Organizations are also expected to guard their commercial activities against claims that touch on hostile environment electronic harassment or copyright infringement (Jauregui Para. 3). Due to such a balance of interests, organizations are expected to have clearly spelled out policies that touch on internet usage that establish the level of a reasonable expectation of privacy while at the workplace.
The company should explicitly outline any kinds of prohibitive usage, including any prohibited use that may come across as obvious to the company’s management. Having in place a written notice to workers goes a long way in defining the limited scope of privacy when it comes to the utilization of company-owned devices. A simple and straight forward policy that gives notice to employees of what deeds are prohibited helps limit a company’s potential exposure to third-party or co-employee claims (Jauregui Para. 5).
All three articles touch on how technology has evolved to allow employers to constantly monitor several aspects of their employees’ workplace activities. However, Hyman asserts that excessive or unhindered monitoring by a company may expose it to lawsuits. This is backed up by examining the case of Lazette v. Kulmatycki (Hyman Para.2). While the workers may feel that such extents of monitoring are a violation of their individual rights, some form of monitoring is permitted under the existing laws. Employee monitoring is important for the company since a majority of employers are increasingly concerned over unforeseen litigations and the crucial role that electronic evidence plays in government agency investigations and lawsuits (Determann & Robert 44).
The summarized articles state that employers can make use of the available technology to offer insight into the behavior of employees based on the trail of their digital footprint that is created every day while they are at work. Such technology can precisely piece together any available electronic records that depict employee behavioral patterns that the human resources department may call upon to evaluate employee conduct or performance. In all the cited lawsuits, courts have found that whenever employees are utilizing an employer’s device, their privacy expectations are extremely limited (Stanton & Kathryn 65).
According to Jesse Jauregui, employees should be aware that an organization’s promises that touch on office privacy may not always be legally binding. Organizational policies may be communicated in some ways: through memos, union contracts, or even employee handbooks (Jauregui Para. 4). There are usually some exceptions for investigations that are conducted into any wrongdoing. However, the common theme that is echoed by all the three authors is that if an employee is not aware of his organization’s workplace privacy policies, then it is advisable to become more informed.
In case organizations are employing the use of monitoring software on their workers’ computers, the employees ought to be made to feel safe and rest easy knowing that their personal data and any other crucial information is not safe. Employees may protect themselves from unnecessary intrusions by installing antivirus or malware software onto their company cell phones and computers to protect potentially sensitive personal data and information (Stanton & Kathryn 74).
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The employees are also advised to encrypt sensitive information to prevent any of it from falling into the wrong hands. When it comes to social media, it is recommended that employees be assisted and guided as opposed to invading and surveying them. Social media, if used correctly by the employees, can add another edge to the company’s marketing strategy and presence.
Employees are expected to know that when an email system is present at an organization, the employer is its rightful owner and is permitted to review all of its contents. Employers are allowed to monitor messages that are sent within the organization.
They are also legally permitted to monitor any information that is sent from an employee’s terminal to another. However, office access to the internet should be addressed within a framework of two often conflicting legal interests that dwell on the employee and employer’s rights (Cross, Roger, Frank & Frank 51). Employers are supposed to consider statutes that enhance the privacy interests of workers, such as the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. They are also expected to protect their businesses against claims as varied as copyright infringement and hostile environment electronic harassment.
Cross, Frank B, Roger L. R. Miller, Frank B. Cross, and Frank B. Cross. The Legal Environment Of Business: Text and Cases: Ethical, Regulatory, Global, and Corporate Issues. Mason, OH: South-Western Cengage Learning, 2012. Print.
Determann, Lothar, and Robert Sprague. Intrusive Monitoring: Employee Privacy Expectations Are Reasonable in Europe, Destroyed in the United States. Saarbrücken: LAP LAMBERT Academic Publishing, 2014. Internet resource.
Hyman, Jon. Who Owns Personal Email on an Employer-Issued Smartphone? Workforce. 2016. Web.
Jauregui, Jesse. Electronic Misconduct What Liability Exists for Employers? Workforce. 2010. Web.
Lambert, Art. Technology in the Workplace A Recipe for Legal Trouble. workforce. 2005. Web
Stanton, Jeffrey M, and Kathryn R. Stam. The Visible Employee: Using Workplace Monitoring And Surveillance to Protect Information Assets Without Compromising Employee Privacy or Trust. Medford, N.J: CyberAge Books, 2006. Print.