Employee Privacy Rights in the Digital Age

Vector of two managers with magnifying glass watching over a employee working at his desk on computer - employee privacy rights concept

With the rise of digital communications, social media, and technology, the landscape of the workplace has changed. While employees might think they are protected by passwords or electronic lockboxes — employers can still search through company computers, conduct social media searches, and find information about an employee or job candidate on the internet. It’s crucial for employees in Ohio to understand their privacy rights in the digital age.

What Privacy Rights Do Employees Have?

It is important to be aware there are many types of employer monitoring are legal, and an employer may read and listen to most communications that occur in the workplace or on workplace equipment. It’s essential for an employee to have an understanding of their employer’s privacy policies so they know the extent of the privacy they can expect while they are on their employer’s property or using the employer’s resources.

Employees should be mindful of the following privacy rights in the workplace:

  • Telephone privacy — Employers generally have the right to monitor telephone calls placed to and from their locations, within limitation. Importantly, the Electronics Communications Privacy Act prohibits employers from monitoring personal calls made by employees, regardless of whether they were made in the workplace. Under the Act, employers must disclose the fact that calls are being monitored and they are prohibited from reading, disclosing, and deleting an employee’s voicemails, or preventing access to them.
  • Video surveillance — A private employer may use cameras to monitor employees, including for safety and security purposes, as well as to monitor productivity. But employers must inform employees that they are under video surveillance and cameras may not be used in any location where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. In addition, any video surveillance may not include audio as this would violate federal wiretapping laws.
  • Drug testing — Private employers may drug test their employees for both alcohol and drugs in certain circumstances. Under Ohio law, employers can test applicants and new hires. They may also drug test employees after a workplace accident, based on reasonable suspicion, or after an employee returns to work following a positive test.

Employees of private employers have no reasonable expectation of privacy in the workplace. Unlike government employers, private employers have the right to search, monitor, and view employee emails as long as there is a legitimate business purpose for doing so. It is also legally permissible for employers to track the websites visited by employees and block employees from visiting certain sites. In some cases, private employers may also conduct searches of an employee’s belongings while on work property as long as they have been informed in advance of any searches.

Can an Employer Terminate You for Off-Duty Conduct Posted on Social Media?

It is generally not illegal for a private employer to terminate an employee for content posted online regarding off-duty conduct. If the private employer feels the content on the site is offensive to them, potential clients, or reflects poorly on the company, they can lawfully fire the employee. But while there are typically no employee privacy rights concerning public posts online, these types of matters are often fact specific. For example, the private employer may be violating federal law if the employee’s post was related to the terms and conditions of employment.

Contact an Experienced Ohio Employment Law Attorney

If your employer has violated your state or federal employee privacy rights, you may be entitled to file a lawsuit. But these types of cases are complex and it’s essential to have a knowledgeable employment law attorney who can assist you with navigating the legal process. Located in the Cleveland area and providing trusted representation to clients throughout Ohio, employment law attorney Chris Lalak works diligently to obtain the best possible results for each of his clients. Contact Lalak LLC today to schedule a free, confidential, no-obligation consultation and learn how we can help.

Categories: Employee Rights