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Employee Rights: Privacy & Safety

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  • 0:02 Employee Privacy -…
  • 2:45 Background Tests &…
  • 5:30 Employee Surveillance…
  • 7:21 Workplace Safety & Violence
  • 8:46 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shawn Grimsley
The modern workplace can be an intrusive and sometimes even a dangerous and violent place. In this lesson, you'll learn about employee privacy and safety. Topics will include employee surveillance, social media and workplace safety and violence.

Employee Privacy - Competing Interests

Edward works in the marketing department of a large corporation. He's paid well and has good benefits. However, Edward had to provide a lot of information considered private to obtain the job and is constantly monitored by his employer. Given today's technology, workplace privacy has become a serious issue, and both employees and employers have valid, legitimate interests. Workplace privacy is simply the right to privacy afforded to employees under the law at the workplace or while engaging in work activities. Let's take a look.

Edward's employer has some important business interests for digging into information about potential employees and monitoring its active employees:

  • Employers can be held legally liable for some of the wrongful acts of their employees, which is called vicarious liability. For example, if an accountant negligently handles a customer's taxes, the employer can be liable.

  • Employers can be held liable for the negligent hiring of employees. For example, if a daycare worker abuses a child and a background check would have revealed a history of criminal abuse and neglect, an employer may be liable for negligent hiring of an abusive employee.

  • Employers have legitimate concerns relating to employee theft and even industrial espionage. Edward, for example, knows a lot about the company's new product prototypes and marketing strategies that its competitors would love to get their hands on. The company wants to make sure that Edward is not stealing company trade secrets and selling them to competitors.

  • Employers have an interest in ensuring that employees are being productive rather than using technology, such as web browsers, for personal uses.

  • Employers need to have specific information to comply with certain laws, including affirmative action programs.

  • Employers have an interest in matching employees with the most suitable positions in the company.

Edward and his fellow employees also have legitimate interests in their privacy at the workplace:

  • Intrusion into an employee's privacy creates a suspicious atmosphere and a hostile workplace for employees. This lowers morale. Who wants to have someone spying on them all the time?

  • Intrusion into privacy can create a great deal of stress and pressure.

  • The hostile environment and stress hurts productivity, which is bad not only for employees but also employers.

  • An employee's autonomy, dignity and freedom of expression are threatened if privacy is not respected.

Background Tests & Drug Testing

Edward had to disclose many details of his life as part of the application process. He had to consent to a criminal background check, a credit check and even had to undergo a drug test. Let's take a look at each of these forays into a person's privacy from the standpoint of human resources management.

Perhaps the most understandable invasion of privacy in the workplace is the drug test. Drug use can negatively affect the safety, security and efficiency of the workplace. It is usually permissible for an employer to require a drug test as a condition of employment. In fact, drug testing is mandated for many positions in the transportation industry. Both federal and state laws regulate drug testing.

Employers also often use criminal background checks during the application process. It's legal for employers to check an applicant's criminal history, but there are restrictions to the use of the information. An employer may reject an applicant if convicted of a felony that is related to job duties. For example, an applicant convicted of embezzlement can be rejected for an accounting position, but an applicant for a janitorial position probably cannot because the crime has nothing to do with mopping floors. Many states prohibit employers from denying employment based upon past arrests that did not result in a conviction or past drug treatment.

Employers will often look into an applicant's driving record, which makes sense if the job requires a significant amount of driving, such as a delivery job. This information is usually in the public domain. Employers often also require applicants to give written consent to acquiring an applicant's credit report. The rationale for obtaining such information is that employees in deep debt may not manage finances well and may embezzle money.

In obtaining, reviewing and making decisions based upon a credit report, employers must comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act. The employer must receive consent from the applicant to acquire and use the report. If an employer intends to make an adverse employment action based upon the report, such as not hiring the applicant, then the applicant must be notified for the reason and be provided a copy of the report.

This is called a pre-adverse action disclosure. The applicant can then review the report to verify its accuracy and dispute the report if inaccurate. If the employer still decides to take an adverse action after any response from the applicant, the employer must provide notice again after the action is taken.

Employee Surveillance & Off-Duty Acts

The intrusion into Edward's privacy does not end after the application process. He is under constant surveillance at work. His emails and phone calls are subject to monitoring. In fact, he hears rumors that his employer even tracks his keystrokes on his keyboard with a computer program. And he is under constant video surveillance in practically every location at work except the restroom. But is this all legal?

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