Q. How would an employer legally go about monitoring employees in the workplace?
A. Employers are permitted to monitor employees in the workplace based on their legitimate interest in protecting equipment and property.
Company monitoring of employee activity on the company’s computer system is generally lawful if the company has a policy clearly stating that employees have no reasonable expectation of privacy in what they do on the employer’s email or computer system and if it is done for legitimate business reasons. Employers are permitted to read employee emails that already have been read and stored by the employee.
However, employers should refrain from reading emails on a real-time basis or as they are transmitted. Also, don’t monitor the content of employee communications on password-protected sites and personal email accounts, even if the employee accesses those sites through company-owned computers.
Employers also are permitted to monitor business-related calls, but once an employer realizes that the call is personal in nature, it should stop monitoring the call.
Employers may also use cameras to monitorand prevent internal theft. Some companies have installed hidden surveillance cameras in rest rooms or locker rooms, claiming they suspected employees of using drugs. However, because these videos could capture employees in private situations, courts could find that these hidden cameras invade privacy rights.
Video cameras that also capture audio recordings may be subject to laws relating to audio recording, including wiretap and eavesdropping laws.