The FBI received a tip that an employee of an IT company was accessing child pornography from his workplace computer. When approached by the FBI, the company confirmed that the employee had regularly visited such Web sites. The employee’s office was entered in the evening by company officials and copies were made of the contents of his computer’s hard drive. All of the computers in the workplace were property of the employer and the employer was able to monitor all employees’ Internet activity. Employees were told when hired that their computer use was subject to monitoring and that computers should not be used for personal business. The employee was the only user of the office and it was kept locked. A password created by the employee was needed to use the computer. After the employee was arrested and charged with crimes, he argued that the FBI had violated his constitutional rights by searching his computer without a warrant. Did this employee have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the contents of his workplace computer? Did the government violate his constitutional rights by conducting an illegal search?
United States of America v. Ziegler , 474 F.3d 1184 (9th Cir. 2007).
While a few states have laws governing an employer’s handling of personnel records, the employer’s policy generally controls.
The federal Privacy Act governs the handling of personnel records of federal employees.
Some states grant employees the right to review and copy their personnel files, and restrict access by others.
Employers generally must allow union representatives to see the personnel files of their members.
Recommended : Even though few private-sector employers are legally required to do so, it is sensible to obtain the consent of employees prior to divulging information from their personnel records to third parties.
School officials suspected that a physical education teacher was stealing money from students. Two hidden video cameras were placed in his office. The office was also used by other gym teachers and was where the teachers changed their clothes. The office was located within the boy’s locker room and was accessible only by walking through the locker room. The cameras recorded and stored camera images for 30 days. It was unclear whether any school officials actually watched live images from the cameras or reviewed the tapes. When a teacher discovered the cameras, he sued. Were the privacy rights of the teachers violated?
Helisek v. Dearborn Public Schools , 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 25514 (E.D. Mich.)
Facts : A new employee had trouble posting a purchase transaction for a customer, who became irate, so the employee gave her a 10% discount, which was not authorized. The store security manager took the employee to an interview room, and over the next hour, accused her in front of witnesses of having a drug and alcohol problem for which she had hocked missing pieces of jewelry, and of having credit problems. She sued for defamation and false imprisonment, but lost on a motion for summary judgment.
Issue : Did the factual record reveal that summary judgment was improper for the defamation and false imprisonment claims?
Held : Yes. Genuine issues of material fact were raised by the employee’s evidence .
Employees can be asked to submit to such polygraphs only if:
They had access to the property involved in the investigation;
The employer has reasonable suspicion of their involvement; and
They are given written information (signed by a representative of the employer and retained for at least 3 years) regarding the specific incident or activity being investigated and the basis for selecting particular employees for testing.
You are the manager of a clothing store which caters to young, college-age students in your university town, and most of your employees are college students. One such employee is Leanne. One day at the store, you answer the phone. The caller asks for Leanne, and when you advise that Leanne is not here today, the caller tells you that she is calling from Dr. Wilson’s office to report that Leanne’s HIV test came back positive, and that she should come back in for a re-test as soon as possible. What would you do?