Jessica Ford, MJLST Staff Member
Lisa M. Durham Taylor’s article, The Times They Are a-Changin’: Shifting Norms and Employee Privacy in the Technological Era, in Volume 15 Issue 2 of the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology discusses employee workplace privacy rights in regard to new technologies. Taylor spends much of the article focusing on privacy concerns surrounding correspondence in the workplace. Taylor states that in certain cases, employees may be able to expect their personal email account correspondence to be private as seen in the 2008 case Pure Bower Boot Camp, Inc. v. Warrior Fitness Boot Camp, LLC. However, generally employers can legally monitor email messages and any websites an employee visits, including personal accounts.
Since Taylor’s article, new technologies have emerged, bringing new privacy implications for the workplace with them. Wearable technologies such as Google Glass, smart watches, and fitness bands find themselves in a legal void, particularly in regard to privacy concerns. Several workplaces have implemented Google Glass through Google’s Glass at Work program. While this could help productivity, especially in medical settings, it could also mean that an employer could review every recorded moment, even those containing personal conversations or experiences.
Smart watches could also have a troubling future due to the lack of legal boundaries. At the moment, it would be simple for a company to require employees to wear GPS-enabled smart watches and use the watches to track employees’ locations, see if an employee is exceeding his break time, and instantaneously communicate with employees. Such uses could be frustrating, if not invasive. All messages and activities also could be tracked outside of the office, essentially eliminating any semblance of personal privacy. Additionally, as Taylor notes in her article, there is case precedent upholding a “public employer’s search of text messages sent from and received on the employee’s employer-issued paging device.” This 2010 case, City of Ontario v. Quon, further allowed the employer to search personal messages.
For the moment, it appears that employers are erring on the side of caution. It will take some time to see whether the legal framework Taylor discusses will be applied to wearable technologies and whether it will be more permissive or restrictive for employers.