The Internet and Information Technologies have changed the understanding of privacy and protection of personal data in the workplace. Recent years, researchers and media reported increasing number of privacy violations as a result of innovative technologies and unfair practices of employers who try to gain total control over personal lives of their subordinates. Thesis In spite of changing nature of workforce relations, employers should use personal information only in those instances for which consent is granted, and inform employees about information gathering and monitoring in the workplace.
Issues of Privacy Today, many employers violate privacy rights of their employees collecting personal data and monitoring their performance during working hours. According to statistical results, 30 million workers in the United States are monitored by their employers. One of the 1973 Fair Information Practices stated that “there must be a way for a person to prevent information about the person that was obtained for one purpose from being used or made available for other purposes without the person’s consent” (Information Privacy Principles 2006).
This area of societal concern revolves around those situations in which a corporation gathers information for one purpose and then uses it for another. In the workplace, privacy means: “the proprietary that a person has to his/her own name; (2) the right to be “let alone”; and (3) the right to control information about oneself” (Busse 2004, 35). There need not be any intentional deception at the time of data collection for this concern to arise later.
An organization often gains access to much information during its normal business processes for very valid purposes, and it does not deceive individuals in any way in gathering that information: for example, a telephone company must keep a file of an individual’s long distance phone calls for billing purposes. Researchers (Crampton, Mishra, 1998; Friedman, 2004) underline that the right to privacy does not involve, as some have argued, the control that a person has over information about herself.
Rather, the relationship that exists between the persons involved also plays a crucial role. On one traditional view, the relationship that exists is that of an agent-principal. The employee is the agent of the employer and as such must comply with any legal request of the employer. On this view the only right that an employee can claim is the right to quit her job. At the same time, the employee has the obligations of obedience, loyalty, and confidentiality.
Privacy Rights of Employees and Obligations of Employers Relationships between employees and employers are stipulated by contracts and other written agreements. Usually, the contract presupposes the existence of a legal framework which must conform to the requirements of that legal system. In particular, obedience to tax, social security, equal opportunity, and health and safety laws would require an employer to collect and store certain information about all employees.
Providing that this information is used only in the proper legal manner, an employer coming to know an employee’s age, number of dependents, sex, race, social security number, and so on would not violate the employee’ privacy. There is much other information that an employer can come to know about employees without violating employee privacy (Anderson, 2000).
In this case, the main privacy principles in the workplace include: (1) purpose of collection personal information, (2) source of personal information, (3) collection of information (employee should be aware of the data collection), (4) manner of collection, (5) storage and security of collected data, (6) access and accuracy, (7) necessary corrections in information, (8) personal information not to be kept for longer than necessary, (9) limits on use and disclosure, (10) unique identifiers (Information Privacy Principles 2006).
Following Busse (2004), an employer can require, under the threat of not hiring the potential employee, information about job qualifications, work experience, educational background, and other information relevant to the hiring decision. However, this relevancy test should be taken seriously. There is no reason to require information concerning marital status, arrest records, credit or other financial data, military records, or such things as religious convictions and sexual or political preferences.
This information is irrelevant for deciding whether or not the employee is capable of fulfilling her part of the employment contract (Kim, 2006). Information Sharing Another societal concern, mentioned quite often is the sharing of information between corporate entities without permission from the involved individuals. All the problems of the new use issue are still present. These concerns do not stop with unintended uses of information in one organization; the problems can be compounded by the diffused responsibilities that result from sharing information.
Employers routinely disclose information about their employees to other employers, unions, law-enforcement agencies and various other government agencies, banks and creditors, insurance companies, and private individuals (Busse, 2004). Some of these disclosures may be legally mandated or in compliance with the employee’s own wishes; others may be offensive to his sense of privacy or may even cause him actual harm. Although most of the information disclosed by employers is job-related, some disclosures may reveal aspects of the employee’s personal life, such as sexual orientation, political associations, or family problems.
For example, social security numbers given to comply with legal requirements should not be used as employee identification numbers. Medical information released for insurance purposes should not be used during an evaluation for promotion. Information relevant for evaluations should not become the object of office gossip. The information an employer collects about an employee is not a commodity that can be exchanged, sold, or released in the marketplace. Release of information to law enforcement agencies without either the employee’s consent or a warrant also violates employee privacy.
Releasing information about an employee to a credit agency, either in response to a credit check or in exchange for information about other present or potential employees, is another clear violation of employee privacy. In short, there is a prohibition against the release of any information about an employee to a third party without the employee’s explicit consent. The number of people within a company who have access to employee files should be strictly limited. Immediate supervisors ought not to have access to an employee’s medical file, for example.
Consent granted by employees should restrict not only the use to which personal information is put, but also the parties to whom that information is available. If an employee has not consented to release information to a particular person, release of that information again represents a violation of that employee’ privacy. The last issue to consider involves an employee’s access to, and control over, information already released to an employer. In general, the rule here should be that employees ought to have access to all personal information within an employer’s possession.
According to Busse (2004), a separate but equally important rule is that employees ought to be informed about the exact extent of the information an employer has Monitoring In spite of strict legal regulations and control of employee privacy rights, many companies use monitoring as a main tool to control behavior of employees and performance Computer, telephone and video monitoring are the most popular control methods in the workplace. “Computer software can check employee performance accuracy and keystroke speed, particularly for those involved in word processing and data entry jobs” (Crampton, Mishra 1998, 4).
US firms involved in computer monitoring include American Express, AT&T, and information industries like banking, insurance, and credit. Monitoring of workers in the United States usually involves recording individual computer operator keystrokes, ostensibly designed to increase productivity, or listening in on telephone operators, supposedly to promote courtesy and efficiency. Despite of advantages mentioned above, these procedures violate privacy rights of employees and their dignity. The main problem is that employees were not informed about monitoring systems by an employer.
A special concern of employees is e-mail privacy. According to The Electronic Communication Privacy Act: ‘employers can legally intercept e-mail transmissions to the extent necessary to determine if the messages are personal or business-related” (No Privacy for E-Mail at Work 2004, G2). These practices were borrowed by private companies which monitor and control private life of their employees. New technologies have increased management’s power to listen in selectively. ISDN, a system first used by federal agencies, can be programmed to listen in on employees and pick up key phrases from their telephone conversations.
According to legislation, an employer can monitor all calls using a pen register. “It allows the employer to see a list of phone numbers dialed by your extension and the length of each call” (Employee Monitoring 2006). Monitoring a phone conversation violates privacy rights of an employee. Thus, an employee’s privacy will not be violated when his identification photograph is used in a personnel file or when his name is used in conversations among other employees without consent (Crampton, Mishra, 1998). Employment is an essentially social activity and as such it requires the relatively unrestricted use of a person’s name among coworkers.
Granting employees a right to privacy in this first sense would make most work activities terribly difficult if not altogether impossible. In spite of legal changes in privacy rights, critics admit that “the employer currently has the legal environment on his side as current laws provide little protection to monitored employees” (No Privacy for E-Mail at Work 2004, G2). There are some exceptions to the principles mentioned above. In some cases a third parry (e. g. , a physician or evaluating supervisor) may receive a pledge of confidentiality as a condition for providing information about an employee.
In some cases, this confidentiality might restrict an employee’s access. It may be the case that some information necessary to fulfill the employment contract can only be acquired with a promise of confidentiality to a third party. In some cases, employees can sign a waiver of access rights. “It’s wise to distribute and have workers sign acknowledgments of policies on e-mail and Internet usage and even to have them re-sign periodically so that there are no misunderstandings” (No Privacy for E-Mail at Work 2004).
Employees who desire the medical insurance or promotion, for example, would waive their access rights. Those who choose not to waive their rights must acknowledge that they are jeopardizing these other goods. In general, there ought to be a presumption of access, but with employee consent confidential information can be excluded. Conclusion An employee’s right to see, copy, challenge, respond to, and know about personal information held by an employer is very strong.
Since numerous decisions involving an employee’s life prospects are made on the basis of this information, simple justice requires that the information be accurate, complete, and relevant. Different employment situations no doubt require different privacy right. To guarantee this, employees must have access to this information; they must be able to correct it when it is mistaken, and they must be allowed to challenge it when it is in question. More needs to be done to specify the exact extent of privacy right in employment.