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General Types of Privacy Owed to Your Company’s Workers

Considering the many serious matters that employers must constantly address, they sometimes forget to fully respect all of their worker’s privacy rights. This topic is especially important since employee morale can quickly plummet when worker privacy is violated and companies can open themselves up to major lawsuits when they violate certain rights. Large legal settlements are periodically awarded to litigants who can prove that their privacy rights were violated while working for companies.                                                                        

Here's a general summary of some of the most basic privacy rights your workers are entitled to while providing you with their services. Obviously, some of these rights may not be absolute if employees are working on top-secret government projects that required obtaining special security clearances in advance of being hired.

Privacy Rights of Most American Workers

  • An employee’s email communications and Internet usage. Most of today’s workers realize that their employers can easily access their email so they exercise discretion when sending and receiving messages. However, employers should normally establish clear policies letting workers know whether they may ever surf the Internet on their breaks or lunch hours and whether or not they’re ever allowed to use work email (or phones) for personal reasons. (Since most people carry cellphones today that often include Internet access, there is little excuse for using an employer’s email service or desk phones for personal reasons). In general, employers do have a right to place sensitive filters on their computers to prevent employee abuse of Internet access or email. However, all policies must be made clear to employees upon hire and updated as necessary. As for voicemail messages, these should normally be accorded complete privacy.                                                 In order to conduct themselves properly in regards to privacy issues, employers should fully acquaint themselves with the Electronics Communications Privacy Act;
  • Drug testing after an employed has been hired. Most states have passed laws which restrict the rights of most employers to test current employees for drugs. However, some exceptions do exist. For example, if the employer is aware that an employee is currently enrolled in a drug rehab program (or has recently completed one while working for the employer), certain testing may be allowed. However, employers should seek explicit legal advice from their Peachtree City business attorney before deciding exactly which tests they should run, how often they should run them, and under what specific circumstances.

It is sometimes lawful to drug test employees who have high-risk jobs that might easily cause harm to themselves or others. Under other circumstances, if an employer believes s/he has personally seen an employee under the influence of some type of drug in the workplace, there may be an added right to require testing. Finally, when there’s been a work-related accident, employers may be entitled to have such testing conducted. However, no tests should ever be run without first obtaining full clearance from your company’s hired legal staff attorney;

  • Each worker’s employment records and medical information obtained while paying health insurance claims. All of this information must be held in the strictest of confidence. If your company is ever contacted for a future job reference, try to always obtain a written request and simply limit the information provided to the dates of employment and the initial and final job titles held. Any medical record information or knowledge that an employer gains about an employee’s condition (for example, if an employer knows that a worker is disabled) must always be kept completely confidential, unless it must be disclosed when processing health insurance claims or when approving family medical leave.

It’s often wise for every employer to periodically remind all employees about their privacy rights in the workplace, with some reference to the legal exceptions to those rights. Of course, all of these rights should be clearly spelled out in the employee handbook that’s given to each worker when initially hired.

To obtain help with handling all of your Georgia business planning needs, please contact the Law Offices of Shane Smith today.  You can schedule your free initial consultation with a knowledgeable Peachtree City estate planning attorney by calling: (770) 487-8999.


Shane Smith
Advocate for the Seriously Injured in Georgia