Workplace Privacy Rights: What Rights Do Employees Have?

What are your workplace privacy rights? Do you have any? What are they?

Many employees are unfamiliar with what workplace privacy rights are lawful and which are unlawful.

In essence, it really boils down to whether an employee has a reasonable expectation of privacy. Here are the typical workplace privacy rights that are lawful and unlawful.

Electronic Communication

Inside the office, virtually all electronic communications equipment that's owned by the company you work for can be monitored. Unless it is stated that it will not be monitored in the employee handbook or contracts, places of employment can generally listen in to phone calls made on company phones, watch employees on office cameras, or read emails made on company computers. Legally, if the company or business owns the equipment being used, they have certain rights to monitor what goes on it. It's a largely unregulated field and it gives companies a lot of leeway. Generally, companies will inform employees that their calls, emails, or computers will be monitored. Even if they state that they will not monitor this equipment, if an employee is suspected of foul play in the office, they usually have the legal leeway to monitor employees.

Personal Electronic Devices

Oftentimes, employees use their own cell phones or laptops for work. When it comes to what levels of privacy they can expect using these personal devices, it's hard to say. It's a relatively new field and decisions on these types of cases largely depend on what your company contract states in regards to using personal devices for work. Depending on what the contract states, an employer could potentially unlock and access a personal cell phone or laptop.

Company Vehicles

Again, since this is company property, an employee really doesn't have many privacy rights. A company can track the vehicle with GPS if it wants. However, a company could not do that to a car owned by the employee!

Video Surveillance

Many employers can legally install and use video cameras to monitor employees and customers. Additionally, employees don't necessarily have to consent to this type of monitoring. Areas where companies cannot use video surveillance include areas that are deemed invasive to a person's privacy, such as a bathroom or changing room.


If a company's employees are members of a union, sometimes those employees have contractual rights that can limit their company's ability to monitor them.

Government Agency Employees

Workers that are employed by the government have a few more rights than workers in the private sector. Public sector government employees are a lot harder to fire or demote. They have much more leeway when it comes to freedom of speech. Public sector employees typically have more rights when it comes to interrogations. Additionally, public employees are pretty well protected against search and seizures.



New York employment law attorney ad