Q. Can employers eavesdrop on their employees’ phone conversations at work, or listen to their voicemail messages in the company voicemail system?
A. Generally speaking, yes, if it is done for legitimate business reasons. If the company owns the telephone system, it is allowed to review its contents, including voicemail messages. Listening to telephone conversations in progress can be done in certain circumstances. Employers can monitor calls with clients or customers for quality control, although some states require that parties be informed that the call may be monitored or recorded.
Under the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act, employers may do unannounced monitoring of business-related calls. If the employer realizes a call is of a personal nature, however, the employer must immediately stop the monitoring.
While you don’t want to trample unnecessarily on an employee’s privacy by monitoring telephone calls and voicemail, it is good practice to have clear policies informing employees that these systems belong to the company and they should have no expectation of privacy when using them. Such policies will reduce nonbusiness-related activity and help avoid liability if the company determines that monitoring is necessary.