Do you have the Right to Privacy in Workplace?

The right to privacy is defined as "the freedom from unauthorized and unreasonable intrusion into the individuals' personal affairs". Privacy has been defined as a fundamental right in article 14 of our Constitution, which goes as under;

The right to privacy is defined as "the freedom from unauthorized and unreasonable intrusion into the individuals' personal affairs". Privacy has been defined as a fundamental right in article 14 of our Constitution, which goes as under; " The dignity of man and, subject to the law, the privacy of home, shall be inviolable".

Growing usage of technology in offices is making it quite difficult to balance employer security concerns vis-a-vis employee privacy rights. Although new technology, whether computers, telephones and other communication systems, have increased employees’ productivity/efficiency, yet it has also raised concerns about employee privacy rights.

Every employer wants to make sure that his employees are doing a good job and the new technology has considerably facilitated monitoring of aspects of an employee's job through computer, telephone, email, web surfing, video surveillance, drug testing, psychological testing, use of biometrics (for monitoring attendance and maintain security).

According to a survey conducted by American Management Association, around 67% of the employers are monitoring their employees' website visits to prevent inappropriate web usage. Similarly, some employers block connections to the websites with sexual content, social networking, games and blogging websites.

Other than the afore mentioned article of the Constitution, which focuses more on privacy of the home than of an individual, there is no provision in Constitution or law to prevent your employer from collecting information about you and making future decisions based on these. If you are new at your firm, besides pay and leave policies, you must ask your HR person about the Privacy Policy at your organization.

In order to understand the matter in proper perspective, certain practices in public sector offices/corporate concerns will explain as to what, according to employers, does not transgress the right to privacy. Your employer can monitor your calls, especially calls with customers and clients, for reasons of quality control. However, your employer may still monitor your personal call to prevent both inordinate and wrong usage of office telephone. Your employer can get record of your phone calls which can be used to evaluate the time spent in a day on telephone. If your job does not entail too much contact outside your organization, your telephone record may be a good indicator of the personal use of official phone and the total time spent on phone in a working day.

Similarly, your employer can monitor your computer usage as well as the Internet usage such as web surfing and email. Your employer can monitor your computer, essentially provided for official use. If you put your personal data in office computer, your data is no longer private and your employer does not guarantee the security of this data.

Moreover, your employer can monitor your web surfing as well as your emails. While using email at your organization, keep in mind that I might be being monitored and it should not be taken as a private affair. Employees using company computers have usually have no right of privacy. Email systems usually retain the messages after a user has deleted these. They are often permanently backed up and can be retrieved from a number of locations including the network, local hard drives and back ups. As more and more employees use web surfing and email for personal usage, the major concern these days is the wrong use of internet at the company expense. Similarly, even when your employer has not specifically informed you, your employer- provided cell phone is not private and your employer can request the service provider to give access to all calls and messages made/sent by you.

Your views on social media websites like Facebook are also under monitoring and employers usually track the activities of their current, and especially prospective employees, on these websites.

Employers are also monitoring off-duty behavior through drug testing. In this regard, your yearly medical tests reveal the types of drugs that you have been using. Your employer can link these results with high absenteeism, increased medical expense due to accidents or sickness on your part. These results can compel employers to take necessary disciplinary action against an employee and after following the due process; an employee can also be fired from his/her job based on these tests.

Similarly, your employer can also use video surveillance (to monitor performance and avoid thefts) and biometric system to ensure security and punctuality of employees. For example, your bank may use video monitoring to avoid and collect information on bank robbery. Similarly, an organization may use video surveillance for monitoring the employee movement during the day.

Your employer has various reasons for collecting information about his/her employees. Here business reason comes first. Employers claim that they monitor employees for safeguarding their trade secrets. Employers also claim that monitoring an employee’s computer, including email and web usage, is a more reliable means of measuring performance instead of depending on outside sources. As explained above, your e-data will provide enough information to your employer about your daily activities while you are in office. Second reason relates to measures through which employers avoid the liability for an employee action. Employers are held liable for actions of supervisory employees in the harassment and discrimination cases. For example, if an employee is passing on pornographic material in print or electronic form, or passing on written offensive messages of a sexual content, it would also be tantamount to sexual harassment. In order to avoid any liability under the Sexual Harassment Law, your employer may resort to monitor your emails, phone calls and even your physical movements.

You must understand that your office is not the place to conduct personal business. Storing personal data on office computer, using social media websites during office time, sending personal emails and excessive personal web surfing are the activities that you would better do outside the office.


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