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Privacy Issue: Employee Monitoring

Los Angeles employers would be well-advised to keep in mind that employee privacy interests are protected by a patchwork of different laws. California’s constitution includes a right to privacy, as does the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, which makes unreasonable searches illegal. Many other federal laws protect specific aspects of employee privacy and as employers increasingly monitor employees, courts will continue to establish the limits.

How Much Can an Employer Monitor?

A Los Angeles employer may generally monitor an employee’s workplace communications, including computer use and business phone calls. Emails sent using the employer’s computer system are considered the employer’s property, and, in most cases, employers can view employee emails if they have a valid business purpose for doing so. Indeed, emails are often used in employment disputes as evidence of employee misconduct. Similarly, employers may track websites visited by employees, block employees from certain websites, and limit how much time an employee can spend on a website.

Employee Productivity

Employers have a legitimate interest in monitoring employees’ work to ensure productivity but would be well-advised to not allow the surveillance go beyond legitimate business interests. It can be difficult to ascertain where the boundary is, but cases have provided examples. One established boundary is a hidden camera filming in locker rooms. In 2006, a federal judge in California ruled that Ontario police officers’ rights were violated by the installation of a video camera in a men’s locker room. Hidden video surveillance where employees have an expectation of privacy therefore crosses the line.1435117704_key_password_privacy_authentication_message_chat_protection

Recently, a case involved an employer who tracked movements of an employee through a GPS-enable app on the employee’s work phone, even tracking the employee on weekends and at night, when she was not working. The former employee is bringing a lawsuit, and if the court finds that GPS tracking employees outside of work is not reasonable, the employee could recover a sizable amount in damages.

For more information on what is and is not reasonable, contact the experienced Los Angeles business attorneys at Hart, Watters & Carter. They will work with you to examine your workplace policies and ensure that you are engaging in employee privacy best practices.