Employee privacy – more than just protecting social security numbers.

January 11th, 2019 by Emily Schifter at Troutman Sanders


This blog was written by Emily Schifter at Troutman Sanders, who contributes to our Georgia Human Resources Manual. You can find the original article and their HR Law Matters blog on their website.  

Why Should You Be Thinking About Your Employees’ Workplace Privacy?

Emily Schifter

Do you monitor your employees using technology?  Would you consider making them wear wristbands or other devices capturing their every move?

This spring, news spread that Amazon had been granted two patents for a new wristband that appeared to be designed to do just that for its warehouse and fulfillment staff.  The patents indicated that the wristbands would track workers’ hand movements as orders were filled and provide “haptic” feedback through vibrations to guide workers to the correct items and shelves.  Although the company later released a statement indicating that the devices were intended only to be used as a hands-free, more efficient version of the handheld scanning devices commonly used by warehouse staff, the technology raised concerns among commentators that information gleaned from the devices would instead be used to monitor workers’ every move and inefficiency – even bathroom breaks.  Amazon isn’t alone.  A small technology company in Wisconsin, for instance, recently offered employees an opportunity to have microchips implanted under their skin as a replacement for RFID badge swipes at protected doorways and in the company cafeteria—and the majority of employees unhesitatingly agreed.

The above examples may seem far-fetched in the average workplace, but employers have always sought to monitor and improve their employees’ productivity, work habits, and communications.  Today, it’s not uncommon for employers to surveil their employees through technology in a variety of ways as a matter of course, including by using GPS tracking on employer-owned vehicles, recording telephone conversations with customers, scanning emails sent from employer-owned devices, or reviewing job applicants’ social media profiles.  But is it always a good idea?

Generally, employees have little expectation of privacy while on company grounds or using company equipment, including company computers or vehicles, so often, monitoring (with proper notice, as required) is not especially problematic.  Plus, technology has great benefits for employers, including in improving productivity and efficiency.  But it’s worth a few moments to consider how technology’s role in society and growing presence in the workplace implicates employee privacy concerns, and what the consequences can be for going too far.

So that you are prepared before the next big tech development hits your office, here are a few things to consider when weighing how your company should approach and balance surveillance and employee privacy concerns:

  • Consider the types of information and technology you intend to use. Different requirements may be applicable to certain types of information (social media sites versus credit reports from background checks, for example), and some states and local governments have begun proposing and passing legislation affecting surveillance of private electronic information that may apply, in some cases, to private employers.
  • Think about the implications of having and storing electronic data about your workers. What happens (and what are the practical and legal risks) if this data is accessed without authorization (and how should you respond if it is), and will you have a policy for responding to third-party requests for this type of information?
  • Finally, stay faithful to your workplace’s culture. While some monitoring can be a great tool to increase efficiency, too much (especially without prior notice and proper explanations) can foster distrust among employees.

This is a constantly evolving area of the law, and best practices can and should be tailored to your individual workplace. For more information and tips on recent legal developments in this area, reach out to your favorite Troutman Sanders employment attorney.



Related posts

Biometrics in the workplace - not a measure of bios accumulated by an employee

This blog was written by Karen Glickstein at Polsinelli, which authors hrsimple resources in Missouri, Kansas and Illinois. You can find the original blog post and their labor and employment blog Polsinelli at Work (which is excellent) on their website.   Don’t Leave a Print: Biometric Comp... ..read more
HR Webinars
Labor and Employment Update After the Midterms - Looking Ahead to 2019
January 22nd, 2019 at 12:27pm CST by Frederick L. Warren, Henry F. Warnock, Patrick L. Ryan, Chelsey M. Lewis

Cultivating Diversity & Inclusion: Actions With Impact
January 24th, 2019 at 10:00am CST by Sujata Chaudhry, Founder & CEO Tangible Development

2019 Employment Law Series: What Employers Need to Know About Revised ADA and FMLA Regulations
January 29th, 2019 at 1:00pm CST by Heidi Eckert, Karen Milnet, Matthew Banocy, Jamie Mahler Westbrook

WA – New Year, New Employment Laws
January 31st, 2019 at 9:00am CST by Stephanie Berntsen and Farron Curry

Romance in the workplace – or – Office dating pools need lifeguards too
February 6th, 2019 at 11:00am CST by Greg Grisham

PA Why self insurance is right for your company
February 21st, 2019 at 11:00am CST by Amy Brida and Dee Yingst, HR consultants for PA Chamber Insurance


HR Articles
Protecting trade secrets when terminating employees
RIFs are NOT a cure all for crappy performance management
Paying tipped employees no longer requires 80 or 20
Why should I care about employment law?
Government shutdown and human resources – do they intersect?
Employee privacy – more than just protecting social security numbers.
Written warnings and the FAQs they spawn
Rushhourtraffobia does not require reasonable accommodation
Workplace Christmas Quiz (this is legit and will secondarily eat up some time before you get to go home)
The ACA - uninsured? unconstitutional? unenforceable? ununderstandable?
List 10 Up: Top ten holiday party tips
Holiday party what-would-you-dos
2019 minimum wage chart
Save the Office Holiday Party
MeToo, avoiding women, and the modified Mike Pence Rule
Carnac the Magnificent says – Politicussin
Non-competes for non-skilled – non-productive, non-legal, non-enforceable?
Discrimination CHARGE! – Step 3 Cause or no cause, because you gotta do something
Discrimination CHARGE! – Step 2 Go Kim Possible for the investigation phase
Discrimination CHARGE! – Step 1 Don't panic, ask questions
Depression – what can an employer do?
Employers beware - what you say can and will be used against you
Holiday stew – ingredients for a happy and non-litigious holiday
MO - The weed du jour - marijuana médicale
Biometrics in the workplace - not a measure of bios accumulated by an employee
Thanks-giving isn't just about turkeys - include the good employees too
The best "stay" to help you retain employees
Overtime, daylight savings time and circadian rhythyms
Controlling the political speech of buttons*
Cursing, surfing, weapons, gadgets – illegal, inappropriate or OK?
How to Ghostbuster a new hire or applicant
Election leave – employer's civic duty, migraine, or just wishful thinking (election, leave!)
Costumes, booze and the Great Pumpkin – beware the office Halloween party
Disability – Dr. or employee approved?
401(k) plan + payroll provider = 401k good things
Disability/pregnancy practices – what not to practice
Bad hire! Bad, bad hire!
TN – A drug-free workplace program is good
Open enrollment – personalizing perks pays off
Unpaid intern – depends on who benefits
The #1 office perk is . . . ?
FMLA leave before being eligible for FMLA leave
IL – Required expense reimbursement for your employees, not Bill Self
Help hiring holiday help here
Are the new DOL opinion letters like noses?
Public disclosure of confidential information is easier than you think
Bad mix – accommodation request and firing
If religious accommodation and a flu shot both equal angst, is that the transitive or substitution property?
Workplace shootings – 20 can-dos to prevent them
No call/no show shows. No what about it.
List 10 Up: Top tips for starting a workplace incident interview
Mr. Freeze unveils National Security Freeze tagline: "They can't steal your identity if it's frozen"
If it's called a dress code, can I wear pants?
I've changed my name – to Optimus Prime
TN: Conceal and carry means post to prohibit or permit
I'll take "ADA in 5s?" please Alex
Swearing at work – 7 rules
Is that red light flashing?
Four-legged office mates and the pawternity policies they benefit
Notice: notices and forms for FMLA that were already expired now updated virtually unchanged
Don't feel ripped off when you get ripped off – get even
School-related parental leave does not mean you forge a note from your kid
NY: Draft model sexual harassment policy/training released
Discipline - Demote - Depart or Communicate - Counsel - Channel
ICE audits II – FAQs to make you wiser
Round up stew: sick leave, harassment, non-compete, etc.
Identifying trade secrets does not mean figuring out how to barter better
Being at work full time is not an essential function of a job?
List 10 up: Positive employee relations training: reap the benefits of engagement
Employment agreements – what to do before you do
Background checks of the future are continuous
Treating service animal requests (always treat the animal)
Prepare for saying "No" – you need to decide how to refuse service
List 10 up: What's the deal with employee handbook rules?
I cannot tell a lie . . . you're fired for cutting down the cherry tree
Milk Stork delivers for working mom's and their baby
Job tasks and essential functions under the ADA
Who are you? Why are you here? Personality testing?
No, you can't sleep on the job
Technology driving the hiring process
Should you give your employees a little Slack – or do they have enough already?
"We need to talk" isn't any easier to say than to hear
Bet employers must make: call and raise your minimum wage
Zero tolerance for "zero tolerance" policies
Ralph Waldo Emerson as a productivity consultant
PS: PTSD IRL*
Is the employee "disabled" under the ADA?
The six step DOL audit polka
PTO on the house!
New rules for work rules
Dr. Strangelabor or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Millennial
Did Bartleby the scrivener write his own job description?
"Treating" disgruntled or bad behaving employees
Hiring under the age of 18
DO NOT LICK THE BRAIN! and other obvious stuff
Helping your employees save for emergencies
Right to bare arms in the workplace
#MeToo quiz
Under standing desks
How to approach an employee showing signs of cognitive decline
Dress codes should not be encoded
Foul language *
Rorschach, Horshack and Abednego
Don't ask a woman the gender of her child, especially. . .
Guidelines for a valid no-solicitation/no-distribution policy
All aboard the Love Train for long-term onboarding!
Gender and workplace bathrooms
No FMLA for pet's death
Personal hygiene in the workplace
Yes Virginia, there is a St. Patrick's Day in Ireland
Master the modern method for managing March Madness
Drug testing in The Office
Background checks
"Thank you" and "I'm sorry" – meaningful, simple and impactful
Michael Corleone HR tip for the day
S'not flu or it is, doesn't matter
Be prepared for ICE raids
Looking for employees: an untapped source of talent
Calling Dr. Love(less)
Non-exempt employees – what counts as wages?
HR is not a happy accident
Do new hires have to be a culture club fit?
Remote workers and telecommuting
When former employees ask for references
Model written lock out/tag out program
Wrong table cat
They might be giants . . . transforming healthcare?
Conducting internal I-9 audits
The Nebraska Chamber has issued a W-2 challenge to state taxpayers
The impact of super bowl(ing)
12 steps to handling violence in the workplace
Workplace retaliation: don't give in to the Dark Side
Would you really want to work with a bunch of yous?
What is the ADA?
Monty Python should not write your job descriptions
FMLA definitions
Unemployed or wear a bra – are those the only choices?
What "government shutdown" means for employers
An intern by any other name
FMLA - "leave" as in "leave the employee alone"
 “M,” “F,” Or “X”? Nonbinary Gender Designations in the Workplace
Sexual harassment – can't find it – what now?
Probationary periods
Employee contracts
Introverts
How to treat fringe benefits for employees
Attendance policies
Different repeal
Temporary and leased employees
Birthdays in the workplace
Needy employees
Holiday parties - acknowledge, avoid, assume (nothing)
Dress codes: who, what, wear
Punch clock
Nepotism: favoring relatives and friends in the workplace
Year-end performance reviews
Hiring interviews
The Form I-9 has changed… Again!
Service dogs at work
Bring your own gun
Social media
Year-end or holiday incentives
Arizona sick day policy
Paternity leave
HRsimple spotlight - Fiona Ong
Permissible post-accident drug testing
Paid family leave: a growing trend
Politics in the workplace: how to remain legally compliant during election season
Termination Series: Communicating the reason for discharge
It’s only a matter of overtime
Interview with attorneys at Kastner Westman & Wilkins
Valentine's Day heartaches around the office
Safety and health tips
Wearable technology
Favorite HR sites
Back to school time is here!
Vacation policies and time off
Interview with author J. Hagood Tighe
Non-compete agreements
Workplace romance
Holidays
Bullying in the workplace
Employment references
Telecommuting or remote (control) workers
Social media and employment
Performance evaluations
Breaktimes
Interview with attorneys at Wilson Worley PC
Interview with attorneys at Knudsen Law Firm
Interview with Kathy Speaker MacNett
Firing, a job to do right the first time
Job advertisement do’s and don’ts
Employee handbooks – getting a handle on your policies
Technology in the workplace
Interview questions: do's and don'ts
Employee personnel files