The issue of an employee’s privacy rights and an employer’s workplace monitoring of electronic communications have gained the attention of the US Supreme Court and recently led to a key decision that favors employers.
In City of Ontario, et al. v. Quon, et al., 560 US ___ (2010), an employee (Quon) and others sued their employer (City of Ontario) arguing that the City of Ontario “violated their Fourth Amendment rights and the federal Stored Communications Act (SCA) by obtaining and reviewing the transcript of Quon’s pager messages.” The US Supreme Court ruled that since “the search of Quon’s text messages was reasonable, [the City of Ontario] did not violate [Quon’s and his co-workers’] Fourth Amendment rights, and the Ninth Circuit erred by concluding otherwise.”
Employers may wonder about their rights and responsibilities when monitoring an employee’s electronic communications. What types of searches are allowable? Is notice to employees required in the employee handbook or elsewhere? How do changes in technology affect these rights and responsibilities? What is the impact of state law on employee texting and workplace privacy?
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