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Employee Privacy Right-Surveillance

Workplace surveillance has become more common as technology has improved, devices have become less expensive, and security concerns have risen. The law suggests that employees must be given prior written notification about the kind of monitoring that may occur at the work place.

Federal law—the Omnibus Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 —prohibits deliberate interception of wire, oral or electronic communications, including telephone conversations. However, the Act does have three exceptions, and if any one of these applies, monitoring can take place under appropriate circumstances. Employers are allowed to use extension phones to monitor employees’ calls in the ordinary course of business, to monitor communications when there has been employee consent, and to retrieve and access stored email messages.

The most recent federal statute affecting privacy in the workplace is the USA Patriot Act, enacted after September 11, 2001. This Act expands the federal government’s authority to monitor electronic communications and Internet activities, including email. However, no federal executive agency has general oversight responsibilities for private sector employee-monitoring programs. Many states have statutes that are similar to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), with greater protection in some cases. Additional protection may be provided through state common law, which is based on judicial precedent rather than legislative enactments.

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