Restrictions in the Workplace
Social media and mobile technology play an increasingly large role in the lives of individuals. These developments have the potential to impact employment relationships both positively and negatively. Mobile technology can allow employers to maintain contact with employees when they are not in the workplace, which is convenient and can lead to greater efficiency. However, the presence of mobile technology in the workplace may also result in distractions and decreased productivity, and may also give rise to privacy concerns. Many employers have also had issues with employees using social media to discuss the employer’s business, or to disparage the employer or other employees.
It is unlikely that an employer accessing publicly accessible information on the Internet could violate an employee’s privacy rights. However, privacy concerns may arise where an employee uses an employer-provided computer or cell phone for personal matters, particularly if such use is permitted or condoned by the employer. The relevant question in such instances is whether the employee had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the computer or cell phone’s contents.
Employers often have workplace policies that expressly advise employees that they will have no entitlement to privacy with respect to any activity engaged in on employer-provided technology. Employers may also have policies in place permitting the employer to monitor, search or otherwise police the use of employees’ computers or cell phones. The existence of a policy will not always be sufficient to establish that an employee had no reasonable expectation of privacy. The question of whether or not a reasonable expectation of privacy exists will depend on a consideration of all of the relevant circumstances. A balance must be struck by employers between the freedom of employees to use the internet on their own time, and their ability to damage an employer’s reputation or workplace relationships by doing so.