Employee privacy laws

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Employees typically must relinquish some of their privacy while at the workplace, but how much they must do so can be a contentious issue. The debate rages on as to whether it is moral, ethical and legal for employers to monitor the actions of their employees. Employers believe that monitoring is necessary both to discourage illicit activity and to limit liability. Although, with this problem of monitoring of employees, many are experiencing a negative effect on emotional and physical stress including fatigue and lack of motivation within the workplace. Employers might choose to monitor employees activities using surveillance cameras, or may wish to record employees activities while using company owned computers or telephones. Courts are finding that disputes between workplace privacy and freedom are being complicated with the advancement of technology as traditional rules that govern areas of privacy law are debatable and becoming less important.

In the United States, in 2005, for example, a survey of more than 500 U.S. companies found that over half had disciplined and about one in four employers had terminated (fired) an employee for “inappropriate” use of the internet, such as sending an inappropriate e-mail message to a client or supervisor, neglecting work while chatting with friends, or viewing pornography during work hours. The tools that are used for this surveillance are often caching proxy servers that are also used for web-monitoring.

Companies need to make sure they remain moral in utilizing techniques for monitoring their employees. From an ethical point of view, the employee does not give up all of his or her privacy while they are in their work environment. Privacy can become a moral matter, but it is important to know what the employee and employer rights are. The ethical challenge that companies face involves protecting their interests through Internet monitoring while ensuring they don’t go so far that employees lose all sense of privacy in the workplace. When a policy is in place, both the employer and employee will understand what is expected of each other. Without the proper policies and procedures there becomes no set standard and theoretically the employee has nothing to go by. The employee needs to understand what is expected of them while the employer needs to establish that rule.

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