Think twice before you use your employer-provided computer, cell phone or pager for personal messages.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday gave a strong nod toward an employer's right to review what you do on employer-provided communication devices.
The opinion, actually a narrow ruling that rejected a policeman’s expectation of privacy on his department-issued pager, elicited sighs of relief from public and private employers nationwide.
In a unanimous 9-0 opinion, the high court said that the Ontario, Calif., officer had been made aware of department policy about pager use and that the department’s review of his use of pager minutes was conducted reasonably.
The case represented the high court’s first ruling on an employee’s privacy claims regarding personal messages sent on employer-provided equipment.
The opinion didn’t address far-reaching employee privacy rights in the workplace, and it specifically “counsel(ed) caution” against using the case “to establish far-reaching premises.”
Yet employment law attorneys considered the opinion a win for employers who worried that employees might be given a greater expectation of privacy for private use of company equipment.
“Given the prevalence of cell phones, pagers and smart phones in the workplace, an opinion like this can have far-reaching impact,” said Kansas City employment law attorney David Kight.
“It says to most employers that they may not be able to stay ahead of every technological development, but as long as they have a policy that clearly tells employees that, if they supply the equipment, then they (employers) can look at how it’s used.”
Surveys have indicated that more than three-fourths of employers believe it’s reasonable to allow employees to send personal e-mail or text messages on employer-provided equipment, as long as use isn’t excessive and doesn’t interfere with work.
At the same time, surveys have found that nearly half of employers say they monitor employee e-mail use with either automatic or manual reviews, and about one-fourth have fired workers for abusing e-mail or texting policies.
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