Employee privacy: Audit uncovers on-the-job sexting

by on September 20, 2010 · 2 Comments POSTED IN: HR Cafe
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It’s important to make employees understand they have limited privacy expectations when using electronic communications at work. Just how important was recently underlined in a U.S. Supreme Court case.

In the case, City of Ontario v. Quon, a municipal policeman in California was fired after the city audited his text messaging usage and found it was mostly personal and in many cases sexually explicit. His violation-of-privacy lawsuit made it to the highest court, which ruled the city’s investigation didn’t amount to an unreasonable search in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

What the employer did right: City policy reserved the right “to monitor and log all network activity, including e-mail and Internet use, with or without notice.” It added: “Users should have no expectation of privacy when using these resources.” Employees had to acknowledge reading and understanding the policy. Although the policy didn’t apply to city pagers, the city made clear it would treat texts from the pagers the same way it treated e-mails.

The takeaway for managers is simple; tell employees in plain English what will and won’t be monitored. That way, employees can’t claim to be surprised if supervisors encounter inappropriate messages, and managers can rest easy knowing that the law is on their side and that employees know the boundaries.

photo credit: gcbb

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2 Comments on This Post

  1. June 28, 2011 - 9:54 pm

    I very much agree with the last statement about making the rules and policy about monitoring employee internet usage and messaging clear to the employee beforehand. Giving them time to understand these rules and letting them acknowledge that it’s indeed clear to them and that they agree with it. This way, it won’t be difficult for the employers to make decisions with regards to disobeying the policy against misuse of company assets. In addition to that, it would be unlikely that problems like this will occur from employees who are willing to make sure they don’t get unemployed from disobeying the rules.

  2. June 28, 2011 - 9:54 pm

    I very much agree with the last statement about making the rules and policy about monitoring employee internet usage and messaging clear to the employee beforehand. Giving them time to understand these rules and letting them acknowledge that it’s indeed clear to them and that they agree with it. This way, it won’t be difficult for the employers to make decisions with regards to disobeying the policy against misuse of company assets. In addition to that, it would be unlikely that problems like this will occur from employees who are willing to make sure they don’t get unemployed from disobeying the rules.

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