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The Privacy of American Employees

written by: •edited by: Brian Nelson•updated: 2/17/2012

Do you know how much of your workplace correspondence and internet activities can be monitored by your employer? This article tells you where to look.

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    Employee Privacy Policies

    If you use a computer at work, you probably had to agree to a privacy, terms of use, electronic ethics or contract policy. Find out what those policies are at your workplace. To stay safe, assume that all electronic activities at work are monitored. They may or may not be. There isn't an American federal law requiring employers to tell employees that email, electronic communications or internet activities are being monitored.Employers have the responsibility to secure personnel records with access given only to employees whose job functions require access, to provide a secure area for personal belongings such as pocketbooks and coats, and to maintain physical safety in the workplace (among other things). Employers have the right to read and monitor employees' communications because the employer owns the email and correspondence of the employee and is responsible for their safety and actions. Employee communications is not limited to email. Electronic communication devices also include an employee’s computer, telephone, voice mail, text messaging and internet activity. Government employees should remember that their email and correspondence is public information.

    Employers are increasingly “googling” prospective employees as an inexpensive preliminary background check. And, the employer is not required to tell you that the search contributed to disqualification or qualification for the job. There is not an American federal law requiring employers to tell employees that email, electronic communications or internet activities are being monitored. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) http://www.ftc.gov/os/statutes/fcra.pdfdoes not apply because this American law only covers background checks performed by third parties. The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse has more information about this at http://www.privacyrights.org/ar/wcr.htm.

    Blogs usually are included in internet searches. They are good marketing tools. When used correctly and creatively they can enhance the reputation, uniqueness and demand of a product, service or prospective employee. Be careful about information you post related to your employment such as: criticism about the company, employer, manager, co-workers; and posting embarrassing, sensitive or confidential information. Typically in the United States you can be fired for anything except age, race, or sexual orientation. As of January 2008 only five USA states have laws related to limiting when an employer can fire an employee because of something the employee did that was not related to the employment and was outside of employment hours: