With the rise of the digital age and social media, employees’ personal lives are rapidly becoming an online experience. With Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, these web-based, online lives can be accessed anywhere at any time. The eventuality that employees may blur the lines between company time and personal engagements with these social media platforms is the justification given by employers for monitoring employees in the workplace. One study conducted by OfficeTeam found that employees spend nearly eight hours weekly on activities unrelated to their employment duties, which results in a loss of 15 billion dollars to businesses yearly. While this statistic may be rational in justifying an employer’s actions, it is still imperative that you, the employee, know your rights when it comes to being monitored in the workplace.
In Alabama, it is legal for an employer to monitor almost everything employees do at work so long as the employer has an important business reason for doing so that outweighs an employee’s right to privacy. These methods of monitoring employees can include, but certainly is not limited to, reading postal mail and email, installing surveillance cameras, GPS tracking, and monitoring phone and computer activity. Studies show that at least eighty percent of large companies utilize some form of monitoring of employees’ emails, phone calls, and internet use. With such a large percentage of companies taking advantage of this permission, the question must be asked … where does the law draw the line?
The Electronics Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) provides that employers cannot legally listen in on phone calls in the workplace that are personal in nature. Further, companies must notify their employees that they will be monitored by video camera. If a company plans to utilize concealed surveillance cameras, these cameras can only be placed in areas that are not zones where you would rationally expect privacy, such as locker rooms, bathrooms, and breakrooms. The key to drawing the line is to think what is personal and, therefore, private. Past this point, however, guidelines become fuzzy and indistinct.
Employers have the ability to record employees, without their consent, or even knowledge, so long as the camera is visible. Conversations such as those made in-person, on phone calls, or video chats can be recorded with the consent of only one party in Alabama, and that one party can be the employer that makes the record. Personal conversations can even be monitored if it is the company policy that personal calls are not to be made on company time. Postal mail that is not marked “confidential” or “personal” is also up for an employer’s review, so long as there is an important business purpose for reading it. Finally, anything that is a company asset, like a phone, computer, or car, is subject to GPS tracking at the employer’s discretion.
With almost everything done on company time coming within the grasp of your boss’s hands, the best way to protect your privacy is to check your personal life in the parking lot before clocking in.
If you are hurt on the job due to unsafe working conditions, seek legal counsel, as you may be entitled to workers’ compensation or other benefits. As we have since 1967, we will continue to protect the legal rights of our clients – those who are hurt on the job while working for Alabama employers. If you have been injured on the job and want to learn your rights, please consider contacting the Nomberg Law Firm. Our office number is 205-930-6900.
Bernard D. Nomberg has been a lawyer for more than 20 years. Bernard has earned an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell’s peer-review rating. In 2019, Bernard was named a Super Lawyer for the 7th year in a row.