The Supremes Rule on Privacy Rights

by Michael Haberman on June 18, 2010 · 0 comments


Back on Feb. 16, 2010 I wrote a post entitled Privacy in the Workplace: Email Does Not Equal Texting. This dealt with a police department checking the text messages of a police officer who was using his department device to send text messages to his girlfriend. The department checked on these messages and disciplined him for violating department policy. The policy said that the department had the right to monitor email and Internet activity. After he was disciplined the officer sued for invasion of privacy and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in his favor, saying that the policy did not cover texting.

Well the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on that yesterday (June 17) and overturned the 9th Circuit. (Not an infrequent event by the way.) They held that the employer, the police department, had the right to check text messages and that this was reasonable in the course of business. They did not rule on the issue of “reasonable expectation of privacy” given the rapidly changing landscape of communication, but they did say that even if the officer had had such an expectation the department checking things out was not unreasonable given the circumstances.

Because this was a public sector case the implications for private sector employers is not clear. However, in my opinion, this is clear evidence of  the need for a good policy that clearly states what an employees right to privacy in the workplace is and what the rights of the employer are in checking company issued devices. It means that you need to clearly state that ALL company owned devices used for communication purposes, to include email, Internet, texting, phone, etc. may be monitored and employees should expect that communication using those devices may be inspected. Of course some states are stricter in what they allow, so you need to be aware of state and local law regarding privacy in the workplace.

Click on the link I provided above to my previous post for further information.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Michael D. Haberman, SPHR June 18, 2010 at 2:54 pm

One thing I wanted to emphasize and that is that the private sector employer sets, within state boundries, the expectation of privacy. There is no federal law that that covers this in the private sector. So understand your state law and use as much latitude as is given to you as an employer.

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