Privacy Rights in Texas Workplaces
Electronic Monitoring in the Workplace
Electronic monitoring in the workplace is still an area of developing law. It is clear that an employer cannot use bugging devices and phone wiretaps to discourage or monitor union activity. It is also clear that no one, including employers, can intercept “wire, oral, or electronic communication.” But, what is “intercept”? What does that mean? For example, several cases have found that retrieving telephone messages dos not constitute an interception of the transmission.
The most important consideration is the extent to which employers have let employees know they may be monitored. If employees know they are being monitored, then that will reduce expectations of privacy. A frequent issue is use of work email. If the employer allows use of work email for personal use, the employer cannot later, for example, prohibit use of work email for union activity. Generally, the extent to which employers can invade an employee’s personal email will depend on the extent to which the employee has used work email servers to develop or send the personal email and the extent to which the personal email is password protected.
Texas does recognize the tort of invasion of privacy. But, there may be expectations of privacy. For example, if an employer provides lockers to employees, but requires them to provide their own locks, then the employee does have an expectation of privacy in her locker. If the employer searches that locker with the employee’s permission, then the employer has violated the employee’s right to privacy.