Can I Sue My Employer for Invading My Privacy?

With the increased use of technology in the workplace, the concept of employee privacy is changing. Yet the legal term “invasion of privacy” still refers to specific scenarios, which depend on each state’s laws.

As an employee, your privacy rights are quite limited, but there are circumstances where you can take legal action against your employer for an invasion of privacy. These cases can be tricky, so understanding your rights and finding the right employment law attorney to represent you is critical to your success.

What Does ‘Invasion of Privacy’ Actually Mean?

Legally, an invasion of privacy occurs when a “reasonable person” expects their information to remain private, or wishes to be out of the public view, and another person obtains this information and/or publicly discloses it. In employment law, this generally refers to a situation in which an employee feels that an employer violated the employee’s rights to privacy.

A person typically has a reasonable expectation of privacy in their home or with their personal information. However, privacy protections become tricky when a person is in a public place, including the workplace.

Types of Privacy Invasion Claims

Generally speaking, privacy invasion claims are covered by a state’s tort law, also known as personal injury law. There are four main types of invasion of privacy claims:

  • Intrusion of solitude
  • Appropriation of name or likeness
  • Public disclosure of private facts
  • False light

When bringing a lawsuit against your employer, the court looks at factors like the nature of the intrusion and the effect of the privacy invasion. Typically, an employee must suffer a highly offensive invasion of privacy, or there must be long-term distress or other forms of consequences as a result of the invasion.

For instance, an employer might be liable for invasion of privacy if an employee discovered that the employer installed surveillance cameras in a locker room or restroom and was regularly viewing the footage.

Since these situations occur in the workplace, there may be labor and employment laws that are applicable too. Sometimes the information wrongfully obtained or disclosed by an employer can lead to workplace harassment, a change in the status of your employment, or discrimination.

Employee Medical Records and Privacy

A number of employee privacy invasions stem from unauthorized access to medical records. Under normal circumstances, your employer cannot access your medical records.

However, there are situations in which your employer may validly access your medical history. For instance, some law enforcement and military jobs require that you maintain good physical and mental health. For these types of jobs, you may have to disclose information about your medical history or even undergo a physical or mental health examination.

Likewise, if you request leave covered by the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) due to a serious medical condition, some states require that you obtain a doctor’s certificate outlining your medical problem and its impact on your ability to work.

Employee Privacy and Technology

Today’s business reliance on technology has big implications for employee privacy. As a result, some employers are instituting policies regarding privacy and technology in the workplace. There are certain scenarios at work where you may have no reasonable expectation of privacy, but other privacy rights are protected by law.

Can My Boss Read my Email?

Does your employer have a written policy in place advising you that your email communications may be monitored? If so, it is likely that your employer has the right to monitor, review, and read all of your emails, particularly if you are using a workplace computer or a business email account.

If your employer has a different type of policy indicating that employees have some expectation of privacy in their email communications, then the employer’s right to read your email may not be absolute.

Can My Boss Monitor my Internet Usage at Work?

The issue of internet usage while at work is an important issue in terms of employee discipline.

In most circumstances, an employer has the right to ensure that you are using the internet for the specified purposes needed to do your job. An employer can monitor the websites that you visit, observe the amount of time that you spend online during business hours, and even restrict your usage of the internet to certain websites and/or hours.

Can I Use My Work Computer for Personal Use?

Whether you can use your work computer for your personal communications and other non-business purposes depends on your workplace policies. However, even if your employer permits it, you should have no expectation of privacy.

Generally, an employer has the right to monitor your computer usage, whether it is for business or personal purposes, including your email, any websites that you frequent, chat history, and any other personal information stored on your computer.

Can my Employer Prohibit Me From Using My Phone at Work?

Unlike most types of electronic communications, an employer’s right to monitor personal telephone conversations is limited by federal law.

The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) prohibits employers from listening to employees’ personal telephone conversations or voicemail messages in the workplace, whether the calls happen on a work telephone or an employee’s personal phone. An employer also is potentially liable under the ECPA if he or she deletes or prevents an employee’s access to voicemail messages.

However, the ECPA does not prohibit an employer from limiting an employee’s personal telephone conversations at work, such as requiring that employees make personal telephone calls during breaks and lunch hours.

Can My Employer Use Cameras to Watch Me at Work?

Your employer generally can use selected types of surveillance in the workplace, so long as there is a legitimate business purpose for doing so. For instance, employers often use security cameras for the safety of their workers and customers and to discourage criminal, inappropriate, and unproductive behavior.

However, some states have laws that restrict or prohibit the use of certain types of surveillance devices in the workplace. Surveillance is also not typically permissible in certain areas, such as restrooms or employee changing areas. Additionally, your employer typically must tell you that surveillance cameras are present.

Employee Privacy Outside of the Workplace

Technology has created a new set of privacy issues for employees outside of the workplace as well. Even though you may be using your own personal device outside of work and work hours, this information may be available to your employers and lead to serious consequences. In these scenarios, you might find yourself facing a lawsuit for disclosure of private facts or another legal claim.

Can My Employer Discipline Me for Social Media Comments?

In some cases, yes, your employer may be able to discipline you for comments made online, even outside of business hours. Many states consider most employees to be at will, which means that you can be discharged for any reason other than an illegally discriminatory reason.

While negative postings about your employer may be legal and permissible under the First Amendment, your employer may be able to discipline and even fire you if you are openly critical about your employer.

Posting confidential information about your workplace or clients from personal accounts can lead to serious repercussions as well. If an employer finds that you have violated a workplace policy regarding confidentiality of information, you are likely to be subject to discipline or discharge.

Can My Employer Discipline Me for Activities That Took Place Outside of Work Hours?

It depends on your state’s laws, your employer’s policies, and the nature of your job. For instance, if you hold a position in law enforcement or national security, an arrest for discharging a firearm while intoxicated, even if it occurs outside of work hours, would definitely be problematic.

Moreover, if you are a licensed professional, you may be subject to sanctions by your employer and any licensing board that governs your profession. For example, a real estate agent or a doctor who engages in criminal activity outside of work hours may be disciplined through the criminal justice system and have a professional license suspended or revoked.With the increased use of technology in the workplace, the concept of employee privacy is changing. Yet the legal term “invasion of privacy” still refers to specific scenarios, which depend on each state’s laws.

As an employee, your privacy rights are quite limited, but there are circumstances where you can take legal action against your employer for an invasion of privacy. These cases can be tricky, so understanding your rights and finding the right employment law attorney to represent you is critical to your success.

What Does ‘Invasion of Privacy’ Actually Mean?

Legally, an invasion of privacy occurs when a “reasonable person” expects their information to remain private, or wishes to be out of the public view, and another person obtains this information and/or publicly discloses it. In employment law, this generally refers to a situation in which an employee feels that an employer violated the employee’s rights to privacy.

A person typically has a reasonable expectation of privacy in their home or with their personal information. However, privacy protections become tricky when a person is in a public place, including the workplace.

Types of Privacy Invasion Claims

Generally speaking, privacy invasion claims are covered by a state’s tort law, also known as personal injury law. There are four main types of invasion of privacy claims:

  • Intrusion of solitude
  • Appropriation of name or likeness
  • Public disclosure of private facts
  • False light

When bringing a lawsuit against your employer, the court looks at factors like the nature of the intrusion and the effect of the privacy invasion. Typically, an employee must suffer a highly offensive invasion of privacy, or there must be long-term distress or other forms of consequences as a result of the invasion.

For instance, an employer might be liable for invasion of privacy if an employee discovered that the employer installed surveillance cameras in a locker room or restroom and was regularly viewing the footage.

Since these situations occur in the workplace, there may be labor and employment laws that are applicable too. Sometimes the information wrongfully obtained or disclosed by an employer can lead to workplace harassment, a change in the status of your employment, or discrimination.

Employee Medical Records and Privacy

A number of employee privacy invasions stem from unauthorized access to medical records. Under normal circumstances, your employer cannot access your medical records.

However, there are situations in which your employer may validly access your medical history. For instance, some law enforcement and military jobs require that you maintain good physical and mental health. For these types of jobs, you may have to disclose information about your medical history or even undergo a physical or mental health examination.

Likewise, if you request leave covered by the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) due to a serious medical condition, some states require that you obtain a doctor’s certificate outlining your medical problem and its impact on your ability to work.

Employee Privacy and Technology

Today’s business reliance on technology has big implications for employee privacy. As a result, some employers are instituting policies regarding privacy and technology in the workplace. There are certain scenarios at work where you may have no reasonable expectation of privacy, but other privacy rights are protected by law.

Can My Boss Read my Email?

Does your employer have a written policy in place advising you that your email communications may be monitored? If so, it is likely that your employer has the right to monitor, review, and read all of your emails, particularly if you are using a workplace computer or a business email account.

If your employer has a different type of policy indicating that employees have some expectation of privacy in their email communications, then the employer’s right to read your email may not be absolute.

Can My Boss Monitor my Internet Usage at Work?

The issue of internet usage while at work is an important issue in terms of employee discipline.

In most circumstances, an employer has the right to ensure that you are using the internet for the specified purposes needed to do your job. An employer can monitor the websites that you visit, observe the amount of time that you spend online during business hours, and even restrict your usage of the internet to certain websites and/or hours.

Can I Use My Work Computer for Personal Use?

Whether you can use your work computer for your personal communications and other non-business purposes depends on your workplace policies. However, even if your employer permits it, you should have no expectation of privacy.

Generally, an employer has the right to monitor your computer usage, whether it is for business or personal purposes, including your email, any websites that you frequent, chat history, and any other personal information stored on your computer.

Can my Employer Prohibit Me From Using My Phone at Work?

Unlike most types of electronic communications, an employer’s right to monitor personal telephone conversations is limited by federal law.

The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) prohibits employers from listening to employees’ personal telephone conversations or voicemail messages in the workplace, whether the calls happen on a work telephone or an employee’s personal phone. An employer also is potentially liable under the ECPA if he or she deletes or prevents an employee’s access to voicemail messages.

However, the ECPA does not prohibit an employer from limiting an employee’s personal telephone conversations at work, such as requiring that employees make personal telephone calls during breaks and lunch hours.

Can My Employer Use Cameras to Watch Me at Work?

Your employer generally can use selected types of surveillance in the workplace, so long as there is a legitimate business purpose for doing so. For instance, employers often use security cameras for the safety of their workers and customers and to discourage criminal, inappropriate, and unproductive behavior.

However, some states have laws that restrict or prohibit the use of certain types of surveillance devices in the workplace. Surveillance is also not typically permissible in certain areas, such as restrooms or employee changing areas. Additionally, your employer typically must tell you that surveillance cameras are present.

Employee Privacy Outside of the Workplace

Technology has created a new set of privacy issues for employees outside of the workplace as well. Even though you may be using your own personal device outside of work and work hours, this information may be available to your employers and lead to serious consequences. In these scenarios, you might find yourself facing a lawsuit for disclosure of private facts or another legal claim.

Can My Employer Discipline Me for Social Media Comments?

In some cases, yes, your employer may be able to discipline you for comments made online, even outside of business hours. Many states consider most employees to be at will, which means that you can be discharged for any reason other than an illegally discriminatory reason.

While negative postings about your employer may be legal and permissible under the First Amendment, your employer may be able to discipline and even fire you if you are openly critical about your employer.

Posting confidential information about your workplace or clients from personal accounts can lead to serious repercussions as well. If an employer finds that you have violated a workplace policy regarding confidentiality of information, you are likely to be subject to discipline or discharge.

Can My Employer Discipline Me for Activities That Took Place Outside of Work Hours?

It depends on your state’s laws, your employer’s policies, and the nature of your job. For instance, if you hold a position in law enforcement or national security, an arrest for discharging a firearm while intoxicated, even if it occurs outside of work hours, would definitely be problematic.

Moreover, if you are a licensed professional, you may be subject to sanctions by your employer and any licensing board that governs your profession. For example, a real estate agent or a doctor who engages in criminal activity outside of work hours may be disciplined through the criminal justice system and have a professional license suspended or revoked.

Speak to an Experienced Employment Law Attorney Today

This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified employment lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact an attorney in your area from our directory to discuss your specific legal situation.

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