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Employees have limited privacy rights at work

On Behalf of | Nov 15, 2022 | Employment Law - Employee

Employees in California have reduced privacy at work, but they are still entitled to certain privacy rights. Even though it may seem like your computer and your desk at work are your own private zones, the fact is that your employer likely has the right to search or monitor your activity. Some important areas of employee privacy rights include email and internet privacy, video surveillance, phone calls, and drug testing.

Email and internet privacy

Generally speaking, employment law establishes no expectation of privacy for employees when they are using computers and networks owned by their employers. That means anything, even personal text messages unrelated to work, can be monitored by the employer if they are sent or received using company property. The employer must have a valid business reason for the monitoring. Still, the fact that the communications were not work-related is enough of a business reason for the employer to investigate in most cases.

Video surveillance and phone calls

Employers must notify employees when they are being recorded by video cameras, unless such recording is obvious, as it often is. Federal wiretap laws prohibit audio recording though, so any on-premises video cameras must not record employee audio. Employers may not put video cameras in restrooms, nor may they typically put them in employee break rooms as that would be a violation of employee privacy. Employers can monitor the work phone calls of their employees, but they cannot monitor private phone calls under the Electronics Communications Privacy Act.

Mandatory drug testing of applicants and employees

Employers are usually not restricted from requiring drug tests of job applicants. The applicant is free to refuse the drug test and the employer is free not to hire the applicant because of the refusal. Once the person is hired though, some states restrict drug testing to a few categories of employees, such as those who work in dangerous jobs or those who are suspected of doing drugs at work.