Can Your Employer Monitor Your Social Media, Email and Phone Use?

You expect privacy at work. No one wants to think that their employers can go through private emails or listen in on phone conversations. However, your employer can monitor your social media, email and phone use in several circumstances.

Screening Job Candidates

Apply for a job, and expect the potential employer to check out your social media profiles. They do this to make sure you're not involved in illegal activities and to find out more about you, including if you're a good fit for the company's culture.

It is legal for a potential employer to find out more about you online, but they cannot ask for your social media passwords. They also cannot access your social media accounts to find out more about protected statuses such as your religious or political views or sexual orientation. If you suspect your rights have been violated, file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Employee Social Media Monitoring

As many as 60 percent of employers monitor their employees' social media usage as they look for security breaches. It is illegal for employers to fire employees who complain about their workplace. However, employers can fire employees who share private or confidential information.

Follow your company's social media use guidelines precisely. Protect proprietary and confidential information every time you're online as you comply with your company's social media usage guidelines.

Email and Phone Interception

Laws are fuzzy regarding email and phone interception by employers. According to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) of 1986, it is illegal to intentional intercept oral, wire or electronic communication. The Act does include an exemption, though, for businesses to perform email and phone call monitoring.

Currently, several courts are considering the exemption. In general, it applies when employees use employer-owned computer systems and phones if the employer can prove that the monitoring has legitimate business purposes. It's also legal if you signed the employee agreement that gives your employer consent to monitor your phone calls or emails.

If you're concerned about phone or email monitoring at work, talk to your attorney. Bring a copy of the employee handbook or agreement. Be prepared to discern between business and personal phone calls and emails, too.  

The bottom line is that your employer can monitor your social media, email and phone use within certain limits. Know your rights as you access these essential communication tools any time you're at work. For more information, talk to your Human Resources manager or consult your employee handbook.
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