Monday, September 13, 2010
WHAT RIGHTS DO WE HAVE TO WORKPLACE PRIVACY?
While our Constitution grants us certain freedoms and unalienable rights, do these freedoms extend into the workplace? There was once an understanding that individuals are accountable for what they do and say – has this accountability been lost over time? What ownership does an individual have (or expect to have) over personal materials found on his or her company computer – or does use of a workplace computer for personal reasons constitute a misuse of corporate resources? Does an organization have (and expect to retain) ownership to all thoughts, ideas, communications or activities that are generated “at or as a result of work”?
Our world is changing. Where once we worried about “unauthorized removal of company property” we must now concern ourselves with “e-communicated” thoughts, ideas, trade secrets OR the inappropriate use of company time due to potential misuse of the tools that we use to make us more efficient.
Does a worker have a “right to privacy” when at work? What is reasonable “personal use” of a computer (if any), of a copy machine (what is too much), or of the company phone system (is a personal conversation ever acceptable)? Conversely, if an Organization allows “limited use of company time and equipment” (as many do), does the Company retain the right to monitor any personal communications or examine any files marked “personal” if they stored on the individual’s assigned terminal or system?
We tend to create onerous rules and laws that are difficult to enforce as we attempt to protect worker privacy, workplace sanctity, and insure that employment discrimination has not occurred. Perhaps we should put as much time and effort into accomplishing the core objective of the workplace – to produce exceptional goods or services – as we do to insure that individual freedoms are retained. A return to the tenant that each individual should receive “an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work” might go a long way into eliminating the need for workplace privacy issues. What do YOU think?