What Can You Do?
When it comes to employee surveillance, the law almost always sides with the employer. Even in some of the most shocking cases, such as video cameras in bathroom stalls or locker rooms, the courts sometimes find that employers are within their rights. In part, that's because there really aren't that many laws restricting what employers can do.
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Two federal laws govern employer spying on employees. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) of 1986 says that companies cannot eavesdrop on personal calls unless the employee consents. However, employers can monitor business-related calls without notifying their workers.
The recently passed Telephone Records and Privacy Protection Act of 2006 addresses the concerns raised by the recent scandal at HP and specifically outlaws the use of pretexting to gain access to employees' home phone records. California outlaws cameras in bathrooms and locker rooms, and Connecticut and Delaware require employers to provide notice of video monitoring. Other than that, employers are largely free to monitor anything that happens using their equipment.
What can you do to protect your privacy at work?
1. Be aware. Read any office policies on privacy and workplace monitoring before you throw them in your desk drawer. If something isn't clear, ask. And remember that in most cases, the law doesn't require employers to tell you if they are watching.
2. Assume you are being watched. If you wouldn't want your boss to know you were visiting that site or making that call, save it for home. And to be safe, change your clothes at the gym, not in your cubicle.
3. Disconnect when you can. Don't leave your home computer hooked up to the office network when you're not working. And if you have a GPS-enabled device, turn it off or leave it behind when the work day is done.