HR Management & Compliance

What Are The Limits of Employee Privacy?

Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the Ontario, California police department didn’t illegally invade an officer’s privacy when it reviewed the racy messages he sent and received via his department-issued pager. What does this mean for your policies?

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the case, Ontario v. Quon, overturned a decision of the Ninth Circuit, which covers California. Although the court’s decision is great news for employers, you’re not out of the woods yet—not by a long shot.

Here are four steps you should be taking to protect yourself:

1. Have a strong monitoring policy. Your policy should be broad enough to cover technologies that your company uses. As this case illustrates, don’t forget to include text messages in the policy’s scope. Be sure to periodically review your policy and update it as necessary to make sure it’s current with workplace technology—and always get a new, signed acknowledgment from employees.

2. Enforce your policy. Not regularly monitoring electronic communications will weaken your monitoring policy and bolster employees’ claims that they believed their communications were private.

3. Be consistent. Don’t undermine your written policy with careless statements. In this case, the police department made the mistake of telling employees that their messages wouldn’t be reviewed if they paid their own overages. Had they not done this, the lawsuit might never have been brought in the first place.

4. Exercise caution. Before embarking on a search, even if you have appropriate policies and procedures in place, take a close look at how you can get the information you need in the least intrusive way.

I’d like to invite you to join us for an in-depth webinar on the issue of employee monitoring and privacy next Wednesday, December 15th:

Electronic Monitoring & Privacy: Your Rights & Obligations to Monitor Email, Instant Messaging, Blogs, and Social-Networking Sites in the Post-Quon Era

In this important session, our expert — a seasoned California-based labor and employment attorney — will explain how to draft an e-monitoring and privacy policy that’s legally defensible under state and federal law, how to properly monitor electronic communications, and the types of privacy-related claims that may arise concerning email, electronic documents, and social media.

You and your colleagues will learn:

  • The state and federal rules that govern electronic monitoring in the workplace, and how to ensure that your e-monitoring policy and practices are in line with the Supreme Court’s decision in the Quon case
  • Whether and when it’s permissible to discipline employees for misuse of company electronic resources or for statements made via social networks
  • How to tell when an employee’s personal blog may be work related, and what you can do about restricting what’s posted
  • Whether you’ve got the right to monitor work email that’s password protected
  • The restrictions the law places on audio and video surveillance — and the answer to where you may install cameras on work premises
  • How to effectively use electronic communications during internal investigations and when you’re defending an employee’s claim against your organization
  • Best practices for training supervisors and managers so their monitoring practices don’t land you in a legal mess

Feel free to email me at, with any questions you might have about the session—we hope you’ll join us.

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