A California employee’s privacy interests are protected by a number of different laws, both federal and state. As the number of unexpected and extreme way employers monitor employees continues to increase, our team of experienced employment lawyers will continue to fight for the privacy rights of our clients. Privacy in the workplace is an emerging area of the law and employees should be aware of their rights, as well as the rights of their employer.
Can My Employer Go Through My Work Computer?
Emails sent using the employer’s computer system are considered the employer’s property and in many instances, employers can view employee emails if they have a valid business purpose for doing so. This is an often-abused exception, so if you think your employer is misrepresenting its purpose for reading your emails as a business purpose, contact our experienced privacy experts. Employers can track websites visited by employees, block employees from certain websites, and limit how much time an employee can spend on a website.
Employee emails are often used in trial as evidence of employee misconduct, so employees should think twice before sending anything they would not want revealed to employers or courts.
Employer Phone Call Monitoring
A California employer is generally allowed to monitor an employee’s workplace communications (including computer use and business phone calls). In California, an employer who monitors an employee’s phone conversation must provide an employee notice about the monitoring. Under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), in order for an employer’s monitoring of an employee’s personal call to be legal, the employee must know about and consent to the monitoring of the call. ECPA also makes it illegal for employers to read, disclose, delete, or prevent access to employee voicemail messages.
Under California privacy laws, the Wiretap Statute provides that an employer must have the consent of both parties to the communication, not just the employee, to monitor real time communication via any media. Additionally, the California Eavesdropping Statute prohibits an employer who does not have the consent of all parties to a confidential communication from eavesdropping upon or recording that communication. Has your employer provided you with notice that your calls are being monitored?
Phone call monitoring by employers is allowed under some circumstances under federal and state laws. If you suspect that your employers may be overstepping and putting your privacy at risk, then you need to talk to our employee privacy lawyer. Here at Hardin & Lott, we’ll help you assert your rights as an employee.
What Can My Employer Search?
Employers can usually search an employee’s workspace, including their desk, office, lockers, or a company car and courts have found that employees do not have an expectation of privacy in these areas. There are limitations to what an employer can search, however. For example, if you have locked your desk or a locker at work, and your employer has broken, or attempted to break, your lock to find out what is inside, you may have a legal claim. The question will be: was the lock provided by the company or did you provide your own lock?
When Has My Employer Gone Too Far?
Employer surveillance often goes beyond legitimate business interests. For example, hidden video surveillance where employees have an expectation of privacy crosses the line.
Drug Testing in California
California court cases have found that employers may require employees to pass a drug test as a condition of employment. However, the employer must test all applicants for particular job positions and cannot single out certain applicants based on protected characteristics (such as race or disability). An employer must have a reasonable suspicion that an employee is using drugs to perform drug tests on a current employee. Random drug tests are rarely seen as acceptable by California courts. Even when drug testing is allowed, requiring an applicant or employee to take a urine test or disrobe in someone else’s presence may well be a violation of privacy.
Marijuana and Employee Drug Testing
The California Supreme Court has held that an employer may refuse to hire an applicant who tests positive for marijuana, even if the drug is legally prescribed for a disability. The laws are less clear around current employees, and you if believe your legal rights have been violated, contact an experienced employment attorney.