Efficient Workplaces vs. Employee Privacy
The organisational conflict between the employer and employee views is that the employee views e-mail to be confidential and private whereas employers term e-mail as a company resource and thus believe they should be allowed to monitor it. Legally, such cases have been arbitrated on a case to case basis. As employers consider information resources as company resources, they grant themselves the rights to invade their employee privacy by monitoring their e-mails or communication. The main reason given for this surveillance is to ensure no misuse of company resources occurs.
However this intrusion is resented by employees. A lot of times naive employees are not even aware of the fact that their confidential correspondence is read by someone other than the sender and receiver. This assumption is faceted by the increasing number of legal cases that are filed by employees. Often the point raised by employees is that unless personal e-mail is conflicting with the business, it should be allowed. However surveillance may sometimes prove to be advantageous to employees as productive and well performing employees can be identified and rewarded. Next is that privacy is a desirable clause and a moral right of all individuals which should be respected by others.
Employers are justified as ethically employees shouldn't be utilizing office systems for personal use during office hours. However, it is not wrong of the employee to hold a reasonable expectation of privacy. It is important to know where the line needs to be drawn between personal and official communication as a lot of times e-mails seem informal as employees say a lot of things which they would not mention in a letter and thus could be perceived as personal.
There is a very thin thread separating the conflict with lots of studies. Warren and Brandeis stated that determination of the line where dignity and convenience of the individual must yield to the demands of the public welfare or of private justice is a very difficult task. Waltemath suggested that a restriction should be placed on the length of personal e-mail messages. He also suggested the performance of the employee to be investigated. Magney claimed that employing does not mean the right to be monitored. Others have suggested limiting private conversation during office hours. Eventually its the issue of balancing the rights of individuals against the needs of the community.
Just like wiretapping or eavesdropping on telephone calls is illegal and ethically no employer should do so without the consent of the employee, similarly there is a need for e-mail to be regulated. If an employee wants to act in disfavor of the company, he can do so by telephone or personal meetings too. If the employer states that e-mail is company property and thus can be monitored, the rule should be applicable to company phone and other telecommunication mediums too. Similarly even though companies own bathrooms, they cannot install cameras to monitor ones usage. Simultaneously, the best way to limit the expectation of privacy for an employee is to introduce an e-mail use policy which details the level of invasion, leaving the employee no scope of doubt.
As David Flaherty, the Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia said “surveillance technology is neither inherently bad nor good, but there is both good and bad surveillance."