Employee Privacy essay paper

Privacy is one of the basic human rights, but nowadays it makes a center of controversy when we deal with use of the internet on the workplace computers. Naturally computers, networks, email, and the internet give us the necessary opportunity to enhance instructional methods, appeal to different learning styles, and achieve the educational goals. For me, a school teacher, all these means are of great importance.

In our school computers, networks, and the internet are available both for students and the staff, but there are filters which prevent using inappropriate websites, like adult websites and chat rooms, gambling, loading movies, large files and other personal information, using ICQ-like programs, storing inappropriate private information.

Nevertheless filters allow general “surfing” to take place with the exception of the filtered sites. All users have responsibility to use computer and internet resources only in a professional, lawful and ethical manner.  Also, in order to ensure security and avoid spread of viruses users must access to the internet only through an approved internet firewall or other security device. Passwords and security procedures are to be utilized as assigned and directed. Employees of our school must not disable or bypass security procedures, disclose passwords to other passwords to other persons, or permit computer access to students other than as specifically designed for student use.

Any correspondence sent from a school email address is treated as a professional document, so it is not for private use. Moreover all of the employees at our school are aware of the monitoring of computers and internet resources made by the employer once in two weeks. We are allowed to use private email address, but without right either to copy or download any files from it.


Laws relevant to communication rights are meant to guide enforcement policies for email and internet use at workplace.

Probably the most relevant federal law regulating workplace privacy is the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986(ECPA). The supplementary amendments of this law prohibit the interception and monitoring of employees’ data. If to be more distinct there are three of them:

  1. Employers can be exempt from the provisions of the ECPA if they use a third-party provider.  That is, if an Internet provider provides e-mail and Internet services to the company, then the employer can technically become exempt from the ECPA guidelines.  This is outlined in US Code §2511(2)(a)(I).
  2. The language of the ECPA states monitoring is allowed on business related communications, but not personal communications.
  3. The ECPA does not apply if employees sign an agreement which states full knowledge of a company’s policies regarding e-mail and Internet monitoring.

The third-party provider exception is more difficult to defend in litigation, but the other two exceptions give us quite enough grounds for businesses to monitor their employees’ communications.  Essentially, if a basic consent form is agreed upon by the employee, and the employer makes an attempt to only monitor business related communications, then the company is legally protected.  As long as constitutional laws will protect public sector employees, they are very weak in protecting private sector employees[1].  At this time “the constitutions of eight states explicitly protect privacy and offer greater protection of the rights of public employees than does the United States Constitution. However, as with the Constitution, these documents protect public employees and the protection does not extend to the private sector”[2].  The ECPA is an important legal document guiding this issue, but it does not apply to all workers.

While it is legal for employers to monitor their employees (within limits), it is common practice for companies to draft policies outlining their practices.  The most commonly used practice is to simply lay out an acceptable-use policy.  While not explicitly stating what monitoring techniques will be taken, if any, it clearly outlines what the acceptable uses of the Internet, computers, and e-mail are for employees.  These policies inform employees of what is acceptable, and leaves open the possibility that any non-business activities are subject to consequences.

AMA’s 2005 Electronic Monitoring and Surveillance Survey concluded that 80 percent of employers inform workers that the company is monitoring content, keystrokes, and time on the keyboard; 82 percent reported that they inform employees that their company stores and reviews computer files; 86 percent notify employees about e-mail monitoring; and 89 percent alert their staff that their Web pages are tracked[3].

The first reason to employers for implementing email use policies is that it will help to prevent email threats.

Moreover email policy can help stop any inappropriate conduct at an early stage by asking employees to come forward as soon as they receive an offensive email. It is always better to foresee such cases than to cope with the results of them. And the fact that “Recent estimates speculate that more than twenty million Americans regularly use e-mail at work, with e-mail being used in some capacity by all Fortune 1000 companies and seventy-five percent of all large companies in America” [4]points out that the vast majority of non-work related e-mail is directly connected to employee productivity.

There are many reasons an employer may want to institute certain filters which would outline the permissible parameters of employee internet use. The internet can be a magnificent source of well detailed, current information that can enhance employee productivity. It is also evident that internet allows access to a vast amount of entertainment related features.  Presently many employers have recognized that unrestricted use of the internet by employees has the potential to drain rather that enhance productivity.

Another reason to institute certain internet use policies is avoid possible sexual harassment suits by the employee.

There are a lot of sexually oriented pictures, video, sounds in most communication media. If such material somehow appears in the workplace computer it makes a potential to create a hostile work environment and presents a potential risk of exposure to the employer under federal or state prohibitions against sex discrimination.

Frequently an urgent need to implement internet use policies rises from the technological point of view. For instance, restricting use of the Internet to only work-related matters serves to prevent a drain on limited computer resources caused by frivolous use. Access to the Internet costs business money, either in fees to Internet Service Providers, or in hardware costs necessary to accommodate increased network traffic and data storage. An employee’s inappropriate use may negatively affect other employees’ speed of access or storage space for work product.

If an employer would like to possess the legal ability to continually monitor all electronic communications, it is advisable for the employer to articulate such a policy in writing and define the exact nature and scope of the monitoring process. Again, by analogy, one court has held that a policy of monitoring all telephone calls constitutes a monitoring within the ordinary course of business, provided that all employees were aware that the phones would be monitored for “quality control.”[5] As such, all written policies should be distributed to all employees.

It is understandable that employers want to protect themselves and their business from losing money because of unproductive employees and from the potential risks they may face in the future. But they shouldn’t forget that employee must be notified of the monitoring systems used by all means. In the matter of fact, nevertheless, if a policy “”¦is to be considered viable there must be an effort to ensure that policy is being followed.”[6]People can set down as many rules as they wish, but if they do not intend on following though with some form of punishment when that rule has been broken people will quickly learn that the rule does not really matter, and can be broken without consequence.

Workers in their turn must be more careful in reading company policies and understanding the ramifications for misuse; they should remember that there are few federal or state laws protecting employees at this time. Every worker should also think twice when using their company’s email and internet services. Workplace is not the right place for being engaged in activities not related with work responsibilities.

Naturally employee internet and email use policies help employers to increase productivity of the company, and also protect themselves from employee’s inappropriate use of modern means of communication.

It goes without saying that employers and employees need to accommodate the requirements of the organization as a whole in order to create a productive environment that would be mutually beneficial.

[1] Douglas M. Topolski & Albert W. Palewicz, Employee Privacy Rights in the Electronic Workplace, 35 Md. Bar J. 1 (2002)

[2] Ciocchetti, Corey A. “Monitoring Employee E-mail: Efficient Workplaces vs. Employee Privacy.” 2001



[3] AMA Research 2005.

[4] Gantt, L. O. N. “An Affront to Human Dignity: Electronic Mail Monitoring in the Private Sector Workplace.” Harvard Journal of Law & Technology 8 (1995)

[5] Simmons v. Southwestern Bell Telephone Co., 452 F. Supp. 392 (W.D. Okla. 1978).



[6] Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. “Employee Monitoring: Is There Privacy in the Workplace?”(1997)


Exit mobile version