No More Privacy Rights for Employees in the Workplace
Privacy is the quality of being secluded from the presence or view of others, the condition of being concealed or hidden. The concept of privacy in the workplace however, is not only about the literal application of the word. The privacy in the workplace concept stems from every employee’s desire to be protected in terms of their individual expression of life choices and lifestyles that are considered irrelevant to their employment. The claim for privacy rights of employees is anchored on what they perceived to be good, proper, and just in the workplace. Privacy in the workplace has become a core value of employees.
Privacy in the workplace like health is considered a right and is treasured by almost everyone. Though privacy rights in the workplace does not appear in the U.S. Constitution nor is guaranteed under the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth), yet it spawns endless constitutional arguments and simultaneously increased employees clamor for privacy in the workplace. Today, said concept has become a major issue and has even rise to international prominence with the growth of information and surveillance technologies especially adopted by organizations initially to ensure security and safety of the employees and the greater majority. After the fateful event on September 11, 2001, business organizations adopted other measures that further strengthen their security and safety, yet these also work to diminish privacy of employees in their workplace.
The initial intention of the adoption of security measures like background checking, drug testing, and the use of technological monitoring devices in the workplace was also later expanded as means of predicting, monitoring, and evaluating productivity and efficiency of employees in their respective work. These become part of management style of almost all organizations to secure their investments and the people. However, employees viewed these to have eradicated their right to privacy in the workplace.
The use of technology is so prevalent in the corporate world that it lessens if not at all diminishes privacy in the workplace. The widely accepted and practiced E-mail monitoring, video surveillance, computerized tracking systems, genetic screening, workplace alcohol drug testing, and the use of said information by employers are viewed to have significantly eroded privacy of employees. According to Jeremy Gruber, legal director of the National Workrights Institute, an advocacy for human rights in the workplace that “there is a very little, if any, privacy in the workplace especially in the private sector. Privacy is one of the most violated principles in the American-workplace. He further said that people are aware to a degree how much monitoring goes in the workplace, but most individuals are unaware of how pervasive the lack of privacy is” (Crane, 2005). This observation then fuelled many employees to demand for protection of their privacy rights.
The growth of surveillance technologies has really impacted the modern corporate workplace. Employees viewed this trend to have increased the ability of employers to monitor and gather information on their personal circumstances and backgrounds that are irrelevant to their work. Studies have shown that monitoring employees electronically and in other ways is a growing part of the way American companies do business nowadays.
Accordingly, employees’ private and public lives dissolve as the institution of the latest technologies in the management system of companies enables both the government and employers to intrude into the private affairs of the employees. It allows government and employers to gather data about them anytime and anywhere. Technological monitoring is so pervasive that it rarely differentiates between business and professional information. It does not work to specific information that is of public or employer’s concern only but also to other data available.
The increasing variety of security measures and workplace surveillance measures are viewed to have contributed to the atmosphere of lack of trust amongst workers, supervisors, and management. As such, these are not conducive to good organizational outcomes or productivity contrary to what employers intended and believed. Health problems of employees like stress, extreme anxiety, depression, hypertension, and others are even associated with the employees’ experience of having their personal affairs in the workplace and their performance technologically monitored by their employers.
However, the above-mentioned considerations of employees relative to the adverse effect of security measures and technology on their privacy rights can be viewed constructively. One must only be open-minded about its positive effect to the whole organization. Background checking, drug testing, and other security measures are time and money consuming, yet it can help ensure safety not only to the employees but also to the whole organization.
On the other hand, technology possesses the ability to change the workplace and the business world. It can unleash even the most powerful transformation. Thus, if constructively used and viewed, technology has also positive impact in the development of an organization and in the protection of its investments and resources. It can facilitate strict observance and compliance of company’s rules and regulations as well as the employee’s code of conduct, and professionalism. Employees must be aware that an employment does not give them the right to do whatever they wish within the workplace. Every employment carries a responsibility for employees to conduct themselves in a manner conforming to the policies and culture of the organization.
Indeed, adopting new trends in the hiring process as well as technology in performance monitoring is vital to keep abreast with the demands of the changing environment. Today, an organization should adopt technological changes to stay competitive and to continue existence. Opting not to adopt these management approaches and styles can be viewed as an option to stagnation. Investment of the organization is then futile if it chooses to operate in a backward manner in this information age.
The new trends in the employment process and monitoring procedure are rightful exercise of management prerogative. Management’s ultimate goal in the adoption of these approaches is to increase efficiency and productivity in the workplace as well as ensuring safety and security of everybody. Being so, adoption of technology and technologic monitoring of employees bring advantages that will redound to the benefit of the greater majority. Technology help promote safety and security as well as protect investments and assets of the organization. Technology has deterrent effect to employees who indulge in personal affairs or activities even while in the workplace. Technology’s impact sets imperceptible boundaries between private affairs of employees and those that are relevant in the performance of their responsibilities in the organization.
Also, the increasing concern about productivity and the need for quality improvements in industries have highlighted the importance of effective selection and hiring process that can be efficiently facilitated through the adoption of latest technology. In order to get rid of unqualified applicants, it is of utmost necessity that selection process is designed in a manner that will also gather and generate information beyond what are usually presented by applicants. Today, the conduct of background check and the current trend for drug and alcohol testing requirement of would-be employees are widely accepted by employers as means of ensuring that they have the right people on board.
These processes may be are tedious and would entail cost but are viewed by employers as worth the effort and the investment of time and money as this guarantees a certain level of efficiency in the hiring process. These technological means would control and safeguard the interest and safety of the whole organization against unqualified and unscrupulous applicants or employees. However, to avoid claims of bias, it is imperative that an organization is completely transparent about the reasons for setting up the said hiring process. Management should be able to justify the necessity of the inclusion of technology in the hiring process and in the human resource management system of the company.
For most companies, an employees’ handbook is a working bible that enumerates the dos and donts in the company. As such, it can be used as an effective tool to make every employee of the organization become aware of the existence and the rationale of the adoption of certain security measures and the use of technological monitoring devices. The employees’ handbook should precisely explain its advantages and disadvantages. An employee cannot claim deprivation of privacy rights in the workplace once he is made aware of policies relative to it from the very start of employment. It must be noted that this stage is crucial for both the employer and prospective employee.
Once the employee is aware of said measures and technology as being part of the management system of the organization, he has the option to continue or discontinue the employment. If the employee is not comfortable with the arrangement, he can always forego the employment and look for another company that does not adopt new trends in technology as part of the management of their organization. However, should the employee pursue the employment, he has technically waived his right to question intrusion of his privacy. Indeed, the employees’ handbook can help facilitate transparency between employers and employees.
It must be noted also that any company has the right to set the rules and regulation affecting the conduct of all persons within its premises. The management has the prerogative to adopt measures that ensure the smooth and peaceful conduct of its business and facilitate the creation of a productive atmosphere. Management has the right to demand observance of utmost professionalism in the workplace where employees separate personal from their professional affairs and responsibilities. Technological monitoring devices can aid management in the objective evaluation of employees’ performance, productivity, and professionalism. However, employers must also afford employees with proper orientation of their management style and training for employees’ efficiency and productivity
Lastly, as traffic on the “information superhighway” continues to explode employees will also continue to clamor privacy rights in their workplace. Thus, employers must endeavor to delineate workers rights to privacy and reconcile those with efficient and effective management of the organization. Employers must clearly identify the boundaries between employees right to privacy in the workplace and the employers right to protect the interest of the organization. Employers must also realize that there are ways of weeding out bad and non-productive employees without shutting the dignity of the good employees through the indiscriminate use of technology in the workplace. Like health and safety in the workplace, employees are also entitled to a degree of privacy.
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