Personal privacy is increasingly valued . But one aspect remains gray – the privacy employees have from their employers.
How do employees know employers don’t review their emails or social media activity when it occurs on a workplace device? How do employees know their phone conversations aren’t monitored? How do they keep their private lives private?
You may not be able to if company policy says monitoring occurs. If you sign a document to acknowledge you understand company policies, you often waive your privacy rights.
Nebraska Workplace Privacy Act
The Nebraska Workplace Privacy Act of 2016 grants some privacy protections to employees. Not every state has a comparable law, so these rules may not apply elsewhere:
- Employers cannot make you log into your private social media accounts or email accounts so they can scroll through the contents. Job applicants also are protected.
- Employers cannot request login information (username and password) for your or applicant’s personal social media profiles.
- Employers cannot require you to add a workplace representative access as an admin or editor to your social media accounts.
The Privacy Act also grants protections to employers when it comes to the Internet and electronic communications:
- Employers can have policies that dictate the use of business devices for personal Internet use. For example, Instagram or Facebook may be banned from workplace devices if they distract employees, but this ban must become policy.
- Employers can prohibit the downloading of financial or proprietary data from workplace devices and databases onto your personal devices or accounts.
- Employers can request access to your electronic devices if they furnished them.
Employers can access any information about their employees online in the public domain. If the information can be accessed by a simple Internet search or from a social media profile, your privacy rights aren’t violated.
So don’t make anything you don’t want your employer to see viewable by the public.
What about phone calls?
Employers can listen to any work-related phone calls, even if they don’t tell you. But they can’t listen in on personal calls, even if they occur over employer-supplied phone lines.
If an employer is monitoring your calls and a personal one occurs, they’re supposed to disconnect the moment they realize it’s personal.
The problem, of course, is if you aren’t supposed to take personal calls and try to hide it from an employer who already knows you do because of monitoring.
It’s not legal to record employee conversations without their knowledge and consent. In most instances, this is another well-buried provision in employee handbooks or job offer documents. It states employees consent to occasional monitoring.
Once signed, an employer can record conversations without first alerting you. The exception is in restrooms or changing rooms, where privacy is reasonably assumed. Employers are also prohibited from trying to record union activity or conversations about unionization.
It’s probably best to avoid workplace conversations that disparage your employer or threaten the labor status quo.
Staying private in the workplace
Assume your usage is monitored whenever you use an employer-provided device, even if the employer only partially paid for it. Save your personal online activities for outside business hours and from your own device.
Review and understand your workplace’s employee-monitoring policies. If your employer states they may occasionally listen in, believe them.