You are on page 1of 11

Running head: WORKPLACE PRIVACY

Ethics Paper On Workplace Privacy


Mohammad Ul Haque
Monroe college, Kings Graduate School.

Submission date: 02/07/2015

Running head: WORKPLACE PRIVACY

Abstract
The issue of privacy is a large concern in the workplace. With the expanding of new
technology, many employees are concern about his/her privacy in the workplace. Employees
have the right to go to work knowing that his/her employer will not invade their privacy. The
rights to privacy in the workplace only provide limited protection for workers against monitoring
and breach of confidentially. Electronic monitoring has seen a tremendous growth in the
workplace in the past ten years. Most people believe that they have a right to privacy under the
law, whether at home or on the job. For that reason, it is common for people to feel comfortable
with the idea of sending personal emails or making personal phone calls while on company time.
They expect that they can communicate with other people freely without monitoring during
working hours and on workplace equipment.
Despite these expectations, however, most employees are not entitled to complete
privacy in the workplace. Rules do differ between public sector and private sector jobs, however,
and workers do have some responsibility in keeping the rights that they do have intact.
Regardless of these expectations, or perhaps due to them, employees may be surprised to learn
how little privacy they can expect in the workplace. Since electronic monitoring was introduced
into the workplace in the twentieth century, employers now use monitoring to listening to
telephone calls and computer monitoring, such as email and internet use. While this monitoring
is now important to the safety and security of the employer, it can be very invading because of
advancing technology creating a greater risk for employers whether purposely or inadvertently
are discovering personal information about employees.
Employers and employees often have conflicting interests in the workplace. One of
these conflicting interests concerns the privacy rights and considerations of the employees versus

Running head: WORKPLACE PRIVACY

the rights of the employer to monitor the activities of its employees. A relaxed, comfortable
workplace promotes good morale but too much comfort can result in a workforce that takes their
responsibilities for granted. Achieving a happy medium is the ultimate goal. The development of
modern technology has provided employers with increased opportunity to monitor the activities
of their employees both on the job and off. Telephone, computers, voice mail, and the internet
have provided employers with vehicles that were not available just a decade or so ago. Because
of the newness of such devices, regulations and laws governing the use of them are not well
developed. As a result, at the present time, employers are enjoying virtually unfettered
opportunities to listen, watch, and read most anything and everything that their employees are
doing while at work. Some more aggressive employers are even using such devices to do the
same in regard to their employees private lives as well. In limited cases, some corporations and
businesses have enacted policies limiting such interventions by the company but there are very
few such companies.
The concept of privacy is complicated. What is private for one person may not be for
another and when it comes to privacy in the workplace the issue becomes even more
complicated. From a legal point of view, what constitutes privacy is essentially the expectation of
the individual. The U.S. Supreme Court has defined what this expectation standard is and
established tests for determining it but such a review is beyond the scope of this paper. In
essence, however, the Supreme Court has ruled that for the most part the employer is endowed
with the power of determining what the privacy expectations of an employee might be and under
what circumstances an employee might expect privacy (City of Ontario v. Quon).
The problem of workplace privacy is also quite broad. It begins even before an employee is
hired. With the advancement in technology employers are now provided with a variety of means

Running head: WORKPLACE PRIVACY

in which to uncover information regarding potential new hires. It is imperative that any
individual either beginning to enter the workplace or having already been in the workplace take
every measure possible to guard his or her privacy. Regardless of ones past, events that may
seem totally innocent can affect ones employability as more and more businesses routinely
perform background checks on their employees. Background checks provide the classic battle
between employers right to know and the employees right to maintain a private life. Employers
have an interest in ensuring that the people they are hiring are responsible, honest, trust worthy
individuals. An individual employee can have a long-term effect on the operation of a business
and how the business is perceived in the community. These are important considerations for a
business owner. The employee, on the other hand, has the right to expect that information about
his or her past that might be adverse is not used inappropriately. Therein, lies the essential
balancing that occurs in all workplace privacy matters.
The burden of background checks falls primarily upon the shoulders of the employer.
There is little that an employee can do facing the possibility of a background check to change the
situation. The employees background is what it is and the employee is forced to deal with the
consequences of his personal history. The employer, on the other hand, when conducting a
background check is suddenly provided with information that is potentially sensitive. Under
these circumstances, employers are placed in a position where they must exercise strict
confidentially standards in order to protect the privacy of their employees or their potential
employees. This requires that a business establish a rigid methodology that minimizes and,
hopefully, eliminates the sensitive information being used for unethical purposes. Additionally,
businesses must be diligent in how they apply background information. The failure to treat every
employee or job applicant equally in regard to the treatment of what background information

Running head: WORKPLACE PRIVACY

either qualifies someone for employment or makes them unqualified is an important


consideration in regard to a business litigation exposure for a violation of privacy rights. A
consistent policy applied to all employees and applicants makes it far less likely that a business
will be subject to litigation losses.
The old clich is that All is fair in love and war, but one might add that this includes
the area of business as well. Businesses exist to make a profit and for many businesses if this
means sacrificing the privacy of one or all of its employees means greater profits than it is a
small price to pay. Fortunately, there are those in the business world who are aware of this
philosophy and who take positive steps to develop a set of ethical standards to govern the
operation of business (Tabak). The underlying attitude supporting these ethical standards is that
the maintaining of ethical standards in regard to protecting the privacy of the individual is
important in order to protect both the organization and its employees from legal action and to
promote the business reputation in the community.
One of the examples where businesses have applied ethical standards to the issue of
privacy is in the area of drug testing. Drug testing has become as widespread as a background
check with the theory usually being adopted by employers is the utilitarian one that produces the
greatest excess of benefits over the harm (Baglione). This position often causes employers
difficulty in application. The employer argues that they have a moral right to a fair days work in
exchange for a fair days pay and that anything that seriously interferes with an employee
rending a fair days work is subject to review. The fact that drugs can significantly impair a
persons work performance therefore grants the employer the right to test the employee.
Employees, however, offer arguments to the contrary. First, employees view drug testing as a
humiliating. Second, they see the results of drug testing as a poor basis for measuring a persons

Running head: WORKPLACE PRIVACY

work performance. Recreational use may have no effect on an individuals work performance
and if performance is the basis than testing for the sake of testing is simply an invasion of
privacy. Finally, the results of drug testing are notoriously unreliable. The statistical incident of
erroneous results is extremely high and when the consequences are so possibly severe employees
argue that they should not be relied upon (Carpenter).
The area of privacy concerns has intensified in recent years. Part of the reason for this
increased concern is the fact that technological improvements have made the process much
easier to apply but terrorism and immigration concerns have also caused it to be of particular
concern. Such concern has caused employers to increase their vigilance in regard to security and
for employees to surrender some of their privacy rights for the same reason (Sproule). As time
passes and terrorism concerns are lessened, it can be expected that employers and employees will
both relax their concerns. In the interim, it can be expected that both employers and employees
continue to balance their respective interests to achieve workable privacy policies.
Privacy is important to nearly everyone and entering the business world can often
mean the loss of a great deal of this privacy. Historically, employers have occupied a position of
control on this issue and employees must be aware that, once employed, they must learn to
accept a loss of their privacy. This privacy loss is not unbridled but, nevertheless, employers and
employees should be careful in how they handle their personal affairs and recognize that privacy
is important and that once violated difficult to restore.
The advent of technology (email and the Internet) has allowed companies to immensely
reduce operating costs, speed up most tasks and increase their efficiency. (Allowed companies to
immensely reduce operating costs through automation of human tasks, facilitate communication
on innumerable levels, clearly increase efficiency in almost all tasks, allow for geographic and

Running head: WORKPLACE PRIVACY

other business expansion, and less obviously, even reduced the amount of real estate and
inventory that companies require) Among one of the advancements has been an explosion in
technology designed to aid employers in monitoring their employees. It has helped them easily
review the workers conduct and performance and to ensure that none of their confidential
information are being leaked out into public. While this technology can be lauded for the ways in
which it has helped business, it also raises a concern that previously did not exist. The issue is
that employees come to work with an expectation of a certain degree of privacy and most of the
time they are not aware that the company has the right to monitor their every move. The reality is
that while at work, except in the company restroom or locker room they have no legal privacy
rights. Their expectation of privacy have unfortunately not yet caught up with all the forms of
technology that are out there and can be used in a workplace A majority of employers monitor
their employees. They are motivated by concern over litigation and the increasing role that
electronic evidence plays in lawsuits and government agency investigations. In fact it has been
stated that Invading Your Privacy is Now the Norm in the Workplace.
The employer should do a better job at informing employees of the monitoring policies
that are in progress. They should do that both in writing and verbally. The notice should be as
specific as possible by including what types of monitoring will be used, how frequently
monitoring will occur, and what purpose the employer hopes to accomplish through the
monitoring. In addition to that they should also have pop-up warnings that appear during
employees computer usage which warn them of the lack of privacy. Such protocol will help
workers understand the risks involved. And will help the company avoid any lawsuits for privacy
violations.

Running head: WORKPLACE PRIVACY

Among one of the protocols that goes too far is requesting employees passwords to their private
emails and social media accounts. By doing so the employer is intruding into their personal
matters which should not concern them. Such procedures should be immediately terminated. The
law does not protect a private companys employee information from being disclosed to a
prospective employer and they may hand out employee information, including their Social
Security Number, date of birth, pay level, work schedule or full name. Such practices put the
employees at risk and could result in their information ending up in wrong hands where they
could be potentially used for fraudulent purposes. The companies should keep Personnel Files
and Records Confidential and should only disclose them with their permission to whomever has
a legitimate business need to access them. Abiding to such guidelines would provide sufficient
protection to both the interest of the company and its employees.
Employees have a right to a social life and should not have to fear termination of
employment for having a life. There are other simpler ways employers can maintain the
productivity and accuracy of their employees, without invading their personal lives. The first
amendment states that we all have freedom of speech, but why do we not have the right to live as
we please. All this is a way to keep employees in line; like modern day slavery. When will this
end? This, will never end if we as citizens do not put a stop to it now. We have to protect our
futures, and ourselves. Everyone has something to lose, and as employees, we will suffer the
biggest loss, our dignity, and privacy. I stated at the beginning that employers should reevaluate
this situation; I believe strongly that if we began to initiate this process, a change would have to
be possible. Some may feel reluctant about stepping up to the plate, but that is normal. To make
changes happen, it takes time and focus. We should write to our local congressional

Running head: WORKPLACE PRIVACY

representatives and tell them to address this issue. Then contact the labor board, every little thing
helps change this process. Once we all become proactive, we will begin to see results.

Running head: WORKPLACE PRIVACY

10

References
Dillon, T., Hamilton, A., Thomas, D., & Usry, M. (2008, June).The
Importance of Communicating Workplace Privacy Policies. Employee Responsibilities &
Rights Journal, 20(2), 119-139. doi: 10.1007/s10672-008-9067-1.
Nord, G. D., McCubbins, T. F., & Nord, J. H. (2006, August). E-Monitoring
in the Workplace: Privacy, Legislation, and Surveillance Software. Communications of
theACM49(8),73-77.Retrievedfrom
http://ehis.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.nu.edu/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=69b60369-0ea54aab-ada0-23521b45ebf2%40sessionmgr14&vid=3&hid=2
Schwartz, J. C., Chadwick, J. P., & Lucas, A. R. (2010, August). U.S.
Supreme Court Decision in Quon Changes Workplace Privacy Law. The Corporate &
Securities Law Advisor, 24(8), 23-26.
Baglione, Stephen L. "Productivity vs. privacy for an organization's workforce." Journal of
Academy of Business and Economics (2014).
Carpenter, Christopher S. "Workplace Drug Testing and Worker Drug Use." Health Services
Research (2013): 795-810.
City of Ontario v. Quon. No. 130 S. Ct. 2619. U.S. Supreme Court. 17 June 2010.
Sproule, Clare M. "The Effect of the USA Patriot Act on Workplace Privacy." Cornell Hotel and
Restaurant Administration Quarterly (2002): 65-73.
Tabak, Filiz. "Privacy and Electronic Monitoring in the Workplace: A model of managerial
cognition and relational trust development." Employee Responsibilities and Rights
Journal : 173-189

Running head: WORKPLACE PRIVACY

11