Central legal Issue
This particular case analysis looks into a case study involving the Michael A. Smyth VS Pillsbury Company. In this case, the court had sought to determine if the Pillsbury Company had violated the privacy of one of the employees (Michael A. Smith) after intercepting an email communication.
The central legal issue raised in the case was whether the Pillsbury Company had violated the public policy by intercepting an email of one of employee’s and terminating the employment contract.
The Pertinent facts
After the installation of the electronic mail system to enhance communication with the company, the company promised that the communications made would be confidential (Weiner, 2009). The company also made it clear that it would not intercept the emails and in any case they would not be used by the company for the as a foundation for termination of the employment contract.
Contrary, to these assurances, the company went ahead and violated all by intercepting the emails, and using them as a ground for the termination of Smyth. However, the comments that were communicated to the supervisor according to the company were unprofessional and inappropriate.
According to the plaintiff, the termination was against the public policy that bars an employer from terminating the employee after it has violated “the employees’ right to privacy as embodied in the Pennsylvania common law” (Weiner, 2009, p. 717).
Issues and facts of the case
The major issues were that the Pillsbury had violated the public policy by intruding the privacy of one of its employees through interception of a mail. The other issue was that the company had failed to keep the promise of ensuring privacy, confidentiality, and the termination of employees based on the intercepted emails. The facts of the case were that it had promised not to ensure privacy and confidentiality and it failed.
However, there was a loophole by stating that intercepted mails would not be used for termination purpose. This was important and advantageous to the company for it gave them the chance to intercept communications made in the workplace.
The claim by the Michael that privacy had been broken when the communication system belonged to Pillsbury was not important, because, the tort was only concerned with physical intrusion to property of an employee and privacy or private information was retrieved. However, in the case the intrusion by the company was appropriate because it enhanced the interception of unprofessional and inappropriate message.
The claims made by the plaintiff were not important as the offensive act of the company was not applicable based on the tort. The arguments made by the court were that plaintiff failed to produce the claims on which relief would be given. This was supported by the fact that the entire company used the same disqualifying any privacy expectation on reasonable basis.
When the email reached a second party, privacy was insignificant because the information had been disclosed voluntarily. Lastly, if reasonability was to be applied, then a reasonable person would not claim privacy violation if indeed the communication was authentic.
The court ruled in favour of the defendant the Pillsbury Company. The ruling was that public policy was not violated as the actions of the defendant did not invade the privacy of the plaintiff in regard to the tort. Based on court of Appeal decision in Borse v. Piece Goods Shop, Inc. the court was able to make its verdict by dismissing the case. Based on the tort law, intrusion involves physical or otherwise to matter of privacy.
The court stated that unlike in the other case, the plaintiff did not state claim that would guarantee a relief. It also stated that the email communication was used and open to all employees. Therefore, communicating on open system lost any expectations of privacy reasonability.
Lastly the communications were unprofessional and court found not privacy in this as the interests of the company on preventing illegality, inappropriate, and unprofessional communication were more than privacy of employee.
In the future the HRM would be obligated by the duty of ensuring that such incidences of lawsuits do not prevail. This can be ensured by creating guidelines and disbursing them to all the employees in the Pillsbury Company. This would ensure that the rules are well followed and future lawsuits minimized.
Response by the manager
The manager should ensure that proper guidelines are put into place to ensure that future lawsuits are discouraged. This can be achieved by ensuring work conduct and ethical rules are well designed and explained. He/she can have the company lawyer draft the rules and make appropriate changes were possible in accordance to the torts provisions.
Answers to case study questions
I agree with the rulings of the court that even if reasonable expectation of privacy was availed in the Smyth’s actions it would be right as the interception would not be offensive. This is because although the communications were made to be confidential and privacy guaranteed, the employee was not obligated to circulate mails that were against the ethical conduct in the workplace.
Also, as per the tort no premise (property) was intruded into, no personal effects were searched as the system belonged to Pillsbury Company, and communication to supervisor who is a part of management is not private. Thus intercepting the communication no privacy is intruded and public policy remains not violated. The employer’s reasons were to the best interest of the company thus no sympathy on its action.
The actions were for maintaining harmony in the work place so the reasons are feasible. It is not evident whether the promises were in writing or a verbal agreement on assurance of privacy and confidentiality.
If they were in writing then, the conclusion is vague as agreement in workplace has to be honored. However, if the agreement was verbally made, the conclusion is feasible as promises are bound to be broken if no legit proof to it.
Weiner J. (2009). The Employee’s Right to Privacy and Management of Personal Information: Michael A. Smyth VS Pillsbury Company. Boston, McGraw-Hill Irwin Publishers