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Privacy in the Workplace


It is a known fact that employees expect certain privacy at workplace. The question is - how much privacy can employees expect? To be honest there is no complete answer to that. We all know, if needed, the employer can monitor every aspect of what employees do in the office, from email to surfing the Internet to phone conversations, and many more. But in the process the employer should not cross the line which will hurt the employees.

There are specific laws and rules on employee privacy rights, but those laws and rules do not cover the entire range of activities that an employee or the employer performs at workplace. So there are situations when a disagreement may result in.

Some employees believe the employer cannot search the employee's private areas e.g. the desk or cubicle, or the working files, or the locker, etc. without his / her permission. But, the employer may think differently. To avoid such situations many employer add a paragraph in employee's contract where they write - "The Company reserves the right to access and search all offices and work areas on company property, including but not limited to locked and unlocked desks, file cabinets, files and lockers, without prior notice, for business-related reasons as determined in its sole discretion. Employees have no expectation of privacy in this regard."

In many cases the employee is told "reasonable expectation of privacy" will be maintained. Even with that kind of understanding, there can be a few uncomfortable situations between the employee and the employer. For example - can the employer check the employee’s history of Internet use or can the employer access the voice-mail left by the employee.

The acceptable privacy right will depend on the employer's business type and business interest, and employee's privacy expectation. Existence of a well documented privacy policy is important. One need to work with the HR team, with the IT team and the legal experts to prepare the privacy policy document that will give the employer the maximum flexibility needed to run the business.