Technology makes it possible to more easily monitor aspects of employees’ jobs, although a policy on this subject should be considered before implementing it. In regard to privacy, a question exists whether an employer should be allowed to monitor an employee’s online activities. This may include work e-mail, websites visited using company property, and also personal activity online.
Digital Footprints, Inc. is a company that specializes in tracking the digital movements of employees and can provide reports to the organization by tracking these footprints. This type of technology might look for patterns, word usage, and other communication patterns between individuals. This monitoring can be useful in determining violations of workplace policies, such as sexual harassment. This type of software and management can be expensive, so before launching it, it’s imperative to address its value in the workplace.
Another privacy concern can include monitoring of employee postings on external websites. Companies such as Social Sentry, under contract, monitor employee postings on sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube. 1 Lawyers warn, however, that this type of monitoring should only be done if the employee has consented. 2 A monitoring company isn’t always needed to monitor employees’ movements on social networking. And sometimes employees don’t even have to tweet something negative about their own company to lose their job. A case in point is when Chadd Scott, who does Atlanta sports updates for 680/The Fan, was fired for tweeting about Delta Airlines. In his tweet, he complained about a Delta delay and said they did not have enough de-icing fluid. Within a few hours, he was fired from his job, because Delta was a sponsor of 680/The Fan. 3
The US Patriot Act also includes caveats to privacy when investigating possible terrorist activity. The Patriot Act requires organizations to provide private employee information when requested. Overall, it is a good idea to have a clear company policy and perhaps even a signed waiver from employees stating they understand their activities may be monitored and information shared with the US government under the Patriot Act.
Depending on the state in which you live, employees may be given to see their personnel files and the right to see and correct any incorrect information within their files. Medical or disability information should be kept separate from the employee’s work file, per the Americans with Disabilities Act. In addition, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) mandates that health information should be private, and therefore it is good practice to keep health information in a separate file as well.
Finally, drug testing and the right to privacy is a delicate balancing act. Organizations that implement drug testing often do so for insurance or safety reasons. Because of theDrug-Free Workplace Act of 1988, some federal contractors and all federal grantees must agree they will provide a drug-free workplace, as a condition of obtaining the contract. The ADA does not view testing for illegal drug use as a medical examination (making them legal), and people using illegal drugs are not protected under the ADA; 4 however, people covered under ADA laws are allowed to take medications directly related to their disability. In a recent case, Bates v. Dura Automotive Systems, an auto parts manufacturer had a high accident rate and decided to implement drug testing to increase safety. Several prescription drugs were banned because they were known to cause impairment. The plaintiffs in the case had been dismissed from their jobs because of prescription drug use, and they sued, claiming the drug-testing program violated ADA laws. 5 However, the Sixth Circuit Court reversed the case because the plaintiffs were not protected under ADA laws (they did not have a documented disability).
In organizations where heavy machinery is operated, a monthly drug test may be a job requirement. In fact, under the Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act of 1991, employers are legally required to test for drugs in transportation-related businesses such as airlines, railroads, trucking, and public transportation, such as bus systems. Medical marijuana is a relatively new issue that is still being addressed in states that allow its use. For example, if the company requires a drug test and the employee shows positive for marijuana use, does asking the employee to prove it is being used for medical purposes violate HIPAA privacy laws? This issue is certainly one to watch over the coming years.
Human Resource Recall
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