You probably spend much of your time at work in front of a computer. When you are on the run, you use your Blackberry or iPhone for both work and pleasure. But who owns the data that is created, viewed and stored while working?
If you work in New York for a private company, you have a reasonable expectation of privacy for your electronic devices, work computers and cellphones. This is especially the case when the company that you work for does not have a policy regarding internet usage. As a result, I have been advising companies to cover their bases by clearly and specifically drafting internet usage policies that explains their employees expectation of privacy.
Restrictive internet usage policies usually include the following:
- All the data that is stored on work computers is company property;
- Employee’s have no expectation of privacy;
- The Employer may monitor its employees computer usage without their knowledge.
The law regarding restrictive internet usage policies have been looked at with increasing scrutiny by the courts. For example, a recent court ruling did not allow an employer to access the Hotmail account of its employee.
Despite a written internet usage policy, employers are not immune from potential lawsuits from employees. Listed below are restrictions that employers should be aware of:
- PRIVILEGED DISCUSSIONS. Discussions regarding attorney-client communications may continue to be privileged. If an employee is using the internet for legally permitted employee, like union organizing her communications may be privileged.
- DISCRIMINATION. Be aware that you cannot treat your employees differently while monitoring their computer usage.
- ACCESSING PRIVATE ACCOUNTS. You cannot access your employee’s Twitter account simply because they accessed their account at work.
- NEW YORK STATE LAW. Believe it or not, New York State does not have an invasion of privacy law. Be aware that you cannot fire an employee simply because she tweets.
Be aware that case law is changing on this subject. As a word of caution, use your common sense and think about the golden rule.
For more reading: Who Owns all the data in the Workplace
If you have any questions about who owns your data at work, contact me at the Law Office of Frederic R. Abramson at 212-233-0666.