Q. What lessons should employers take from the Supreme Court’s decision in City of Ontario v. Quon? That’s the case about the texting police officer. We want to ban personal texting at work.
A. In June 2010, the Supreme Court held that the Ontario (Calif.) Police Department’s review of police Sgt. Jeff Quon’s text messages on his city-issued pager was reasonable.
Private-sector employers should learn three key lessons from Quon.
First, it’s imperative to have broad, carefully drafted and detailed communication policies. Employees generally presume they have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their personal communications (even on employer-issued devices). Thus, employers must draft policies that effectively limit their employees’ expectation of privacy.
Second, communication policies are effective only if they are clearly communicated and consistently implemented. It’s important for employees to be fully aware of existing communication policies and their applicability to their personal and work-related communications. Further, employers should ensure that their communication policies are kept up-to-date and that any changes are promptly communicated.
Finally, keep in mind that the reasonableness of an employer’s actions can get them into—or out of—hot water. Accordingly, any review of employee communications should be limited, reasonable and conducted in accordance with existing policies.
Diligently applying these lessons will help employers avoid costly privacy litigation.
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