When I worked for a Fortune 50 company, I knew one of the auditors responsible for reading and reviewing employees’ email. This was over 10 years ago and well ahead of innovations in social networking and the proliferation of smart phones like Blackberries that keep employees connected 24/7. My friend, the auditor, was not alone, however. Surveys indicate that as many as 40 percent of the companies surveyed admit to assigning someone specifically to read and review worker emails.
Amazingly, employees don’t always know this or if they do, they forget. Most companies have express policies controlling Internet and email use, as well as telephone, cell phone, and computer use. As employees remain increasingly connected, many companies also have policies governing blogging and social media.
Employers have decent enough arguments to make for their intrusions. Chief among them is preventing work-related misconduct such as theft broadly defined to include, for example, trade secret and intellectual property loss as well as productivity theft caused by employees surfing the Internet on personal business.
Quon v. Arch Wireless Operating Co.
In Quon, the SWAT team members’ messages were sent or received using two-way pagers owned and provided by the police department. In addition, the court determined that absent a search warrant, service providers cannot turn over the contents of employees’ messages to employers – even if an employer pays for the messaging service. See Opinion below.
In our digital age, will text-messages have 4th Amendment Constitutional protection? While Quon involves public employees, workplace privacy advocates still hope the Court’s reworking of prior public workplace privacy precedent will provide new guidelines to better direct not only public but private employers.
Admittedly, some commentators think the Court’s ruling will be narrow. But best case, the privacy advocates still hope that an eventual decision will mitigate part of the existing strictures on 24/7 workplace technology use by private employees.