Can an Employer Monitor Your Private Work Messages?
In the internet age, we cling to what privacy we can find. We know the difference between publicly posting on social media and sending a private direct message. We’ve also come to realize that our “private” messages may not be as private as we once thought–a product you mention in an email to someone might show up in a targeted advertisement the next day. What about our messages in the workplace? Can we expect privacy when messaging at work using work-provided phones, accounts, or computers? Continue reading to learn about whether and how your employer can monitor your private communications at work. If you have a labor law concern, call a knowledgeable Orange County labor law attorney for trusted advice and representation.
Technically Speaking, It’s Easy to Monitor Your Communications at Work
Before addressing the legality of monitoring your private messages, it’s important to address whether employers even have the capacity to do so. In many cases, the answer is a resounding “yes.” These days, it’s easier than ever for employers and other parties to access your personal communications.
If you use a work-provided device–whether it’s a phone, a tablet, a PC, or a laptop–it’s relatively easy for your employer’s IT to monitor your usage. There may be software specifically installed to track the websites you visit. If you use a workplace messaging app, you can safely assume all chats are recorded in a log. Employers can remotely view your computer screen, and there are even apps that allow parties to track your keystrokes. They might monitor, for example, whether and for how long your computer remains idle to track your work rate. If they want to access your work phone text messages, they may need to go to the phone company to do so, but it’s an option.
Even your communications on a personal device may be accessible. If you are logged onto the employer’s Wi-Fi, IT can use programs to monitor the websites and domains you visit. If your job requires you to install security software on your personal computer, such as to utilize a remote desktop function, they may have a similar level of access to work-provided devices.
Can My Employer Legally View My Private Messages?
If you are using a company-issued email address, chat program, computer, phone, or other device, it’s safe to assume your employer can monitor your communications. Many employers require employees to agree to a policy of “work-only” use for employer-provided devices, or at least explain such policies in the employee handbook. The employer can then credibly argue that the employee has impliedly authorized the employer to review any communications sent to or from workplace devices.
If there is no stated “work-only” policy or other indication that the employer can and will review private employee communications, the employee may have an expectation of privacy with regard to at least some communications. Emails from a private account sent from a work computer, for example, may carry an expectation of privacy. Emails from your work account, however, are likely unprotected.
Your private messages on your personal device are generally protected from your employer. It would be difficult for an employer to claim that reviewing your personal communications on your personal device is necessary to serve a legitimate business purpose.
Moreover, California law offers extra protection for phone calls. All parties to the call must consent to the recording. If you make a phone call from your personal device, your employer is almost certainly prevented from recording the call, unless they’ve informed employees of a policy of recording calls from the office. Even a call from a work phone may be protected in California unless your employer has explicitly stated that they record all calls or will be recording this specific call.
If you are an employee with harassment, hostile work environment, or other employee rights concerns in Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, or San Diego counties, or a California employer dealing with labor law allegations, wage & hour issues, employee contract disputes, or other employment law concerns, contact a dedicated and accomplished California employment law attorney at Coast Employment Law at 714-551-9930 for a free consultation.