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Can Los Angeles employers snoop on their employees?

Although new laws in California prohibit employers from requiring employees and prospective employees to give employers access to their private social media sites, there are still many other laws in California that allow employers to snoop on their employees without violating employees' privacy rights in the workplace.

Employers do have a right to monitor their employees to a certain extent in order to ensure their employees are being productive during the workday and to make sure employees' actions are not harmful to others in the workplace. But according to current workplace laws, employers also have a right to snoop on their employees when there may be no particular reason for doing so.

According to the president of the National Workrights Institute, workplace privacy laws have remained mostly unchanged over the past three decades. With workers having access to computers, phones and the Internet, few laws have been established since the 1980s to create more privacy protections for workers who use electronic devices at work.

Although laws have been established in California to protect employees from having to share their social media passwords and private social media sites with employers, there are still many other workers in the U.S. who do not have these protections. And even though employees do not have to share this information with employers in California, employers may still look at any public information on employees' social media pages. This has led to some workers being fired over comments or pictures employers have been able to see.

In addition to being able to snoop on employees by looking up their public information on Facebook, employers also have a right to read employees' emails that are sent from their work accounts. All work-related emails may be read by employers without employees knowing. Employers may even read personal emails that are sent from work email accounts, and in some cases, employers may read personal emails that are sent from employees' personal email accounts. This is because employers may be able to access anything a worker sends from his or her work-issued computer or anything that is sent over employers' servers.

Employers have the right to listen to all work-related phone calls made from work-issued phones. However, employers are not allowed to listen to personal phone calls from work-issued phones once employers realize workers are on personal calls. This is not true for text-messages, though. Employers may read employees' text messages that are sent and received on work-issued phones, even when the messages are personal.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "What privacy rights do I have in the workplace?" April 8, 2013

  • Our Los Angeles / Long Beach employment law firm provides counsel to employees and job applicants who are concerned that their rights have been violated by employers. To learn more about protecting your rights in the workplace, please visit our Long Beach employee rights page.

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