Employee handbooks are used to familiarize employees with company policies and procedures. Documented employee acknowledgement of receipt and understanding will strengthen the company’s position by confirming employees were informed concerning policies and procedures affecting their employment including privacy. An effectively prepared handbook will not only avoid employee misunderstandings, enhance morale and productivity but also address any applicable state, federal, and international laws. Employee handbooks should focus on the following three overarching privacy areas: (1) Operating- confidentiality of company information, (2) Employment- personnel files, harassment, criminal convictions, and employment references, (3) Electronic Access Policies- privacy of email, confidential information, passwords, and access of another employee’s email (Employee Handbook Company Policy Manual, 2006). A comprehensive employee handbook will provide a roadmap to guide associates through the maze of company policies and procedures.
The company’s position in response to privacy rights issues should consider and ensure compliance with common law, statutory requirements, and international law, if applicable. Bennett-Alexander and Hartman define statutory claims as follows:
State legislatures have responded to the issue of private sector employee privacy in one of four ways: (1) Enacting legislation mirroring federal law, (2) Recognizing constitutional right to privacy under their state constitutions, (3) Protecting employees only in certain areas of employment, such as personnel records or the use of credit information, and (4) Leaving private sector employees to fend for themselves […] (pp. 593-594, 1995/2004)
As such, the employee handbook should identify policies associated with confidentiality including whether the company requires employees to sign a “confidentiality agreement”. In addition, information concerning random searches as employees enter/exit the facility should be conveyed in the employee handbook. In terms of general employment privacy, the handbook should speak to handling of personnel file information, medical records, criminal background checks, and employment references.
Further, the employee handbook should provide an assurance in regard to confidentiality associated with harassment complaints including the company’s investigation process. Finally, the employee handbook should provide clear expectations and procedures in regard to privacy of email, access of another employee’s email, confidential information, and passwords. Electronic access policy information should include the company’s position in regard to monitoring employee’s use of business information systems.
The definition of privacy by Schoeman (cited in Hansson and Persson, 2003) states, “a person has privacy to the extent that others have limited access to information about him, limited access to the intimacies of his life, or limited access to his thoughts or his body” (p. 3, para. 2). Team B’s objective to employee privacy is to have respect for the individual(s). The information collected from an employee is used for the purpose of the job only. This includes information for benefits and medical issues. Unless there is written permission from the employee otherwise. Employee privacy is very important in today’s changing environment. Privacy boundaries may vary from state to state. According to Webster (cited in Hillstrom & Hillstrom),
Searches and seizures-an employer has the right to inspect personal belongings (bags, purses, briefcases, cars, lockers, desks, etc.), except when the employer has created a reasonable expectation of privacy. These expectations can be raised if the employee is given a key to a desk, or if the employer has disseminated a written policy explicitly stating that it will not make such inspections, Monitoring, computer, e-mail, internet, and fax use-businesses have some significant rights in this regard, since they own the equipment.
But if these resources are knowingly made available for private employee use, then a reasonable expectation of privacy has been created and personal data placed and maintained on that equipment can be withheld from the employer, Monitoring telephone calls-companies are allowed to monitor calls to make sure that they are business-related and to record them for training purposes, Surveillance and investigation-many surveillance methods (cameras, ID checkpoints, etc.) are legal, as are investigation of employees, provided that they are reasonable and undertaken for work-related purposes, and Drug testing-these policies have been validated by the courts, although criticism of the practice remains intense in some quarters. Drug testing is a popular measure in many industries, and it is practiced by perhaps seventy percent of large American companies. Small businesses, however, are less likely to embrace this technology because of expense, nature of business activity, and concerns about workforce reaction (Reference for Business, p. 1-2, para. 4-8).
Employee Handbook: Privacy
Information systems are provided for the express purpose of supporting business activity. As such, all use of company systems including email communications are the property of ABC Company. Employees are generally not permitted to use business information systems for personal use. Personal use is permissible if (a) Management has approved it; (b) it does not consume more than a trivial amount of system resources; (c) it does not interfere with employee’s productivity; and (d) it does not preempt any business activity. Electronic mail systems are not to be used for such purposes as producing or distributing “chain mail”; operating a business; soliciting for personal, political, or religious causes; or for outside organizations.
ABC Company does not guarantee, nor should users have any expectation on privacy of electronic communications. Users should exercise care regarding the contents of communications. ABC Company maintains the capability to monitor all activity on the company’s business information systems including internet web sites visited. Employees must obtain written permission from their immediate supervisor prior to accessing chat rooms for business purposes. Telephone conversations may be monitored for the purpose of evaluating the quality of service provided to ABC Company’s customers.
Current and prospective employees will be asked to submit to drug and alcohol testing per ABC Company policy. Prospective employees will be asked to submit to testing if an offer of employment is tendered. Negative test results for drugs and/or alcohol are a condition of employment. This policy is intended to comply with all state laws governing drug and alcohol testing and is designed to safeguard employee privacy rights to the fullest extent of the law. ABC Company will obtain employee signed approval form prior to administering drug and/or alcohol testing.
Failure to submit to testing as a result of probable cause will result in suspension and may result in termination of employment. Any drug and/or alcohol testing requested by ABC Company will be performed by a state licensed laboratory. Each employee asked to submit to a drug or alcohol test will be notified of their results by ABC Company within 2 business days of receiving the lab results. Every reasonable effort will be made by ABC Company to maintain confidentiality regarding results. If the test results are confirmed positive, the employee will be given the opportunity to provide a prescription supporting test findings.
ABC Company does not tolerate the use of alcohol or nonprescription drugs on company premises or during work hours at facilities operated by ABC Company. Suspension shall be without pay until the results of the test are obtained by ABC Company. If the results are negative, the employee will be reinstated and compensated for hours not worked as a result of the suspension. Positive test results may result in termination of employment. Every reasonable effort will be made by ABC Company to protect the confidentiality of the drug test results.
The purpose of this policy is to ensure that employees who have access to confidential information regarding other employees understand the importance of preserving the confidentiality of such information. This policy applies to all ABC company employees who have access to confidential personnel information and/or are otherwise provided access to such information for legitimate business-related purposes.
Employees who have access to confidential information, including, but not limited to, personnel matters concerning other company employees (e.g., compensation, employment-related medical information, retirement benefits, marital status, work performance issues and/or evaluations, etc.) must sign an Agreement Regarding Confidentiality and Non-Disclosure of Confidential Employee Information. Management employees requesting access to such information must submit a signed Agreement Regarding Confidentiality and Non-Disclosure of Confidential Employee Information to the Human Resources Department prior to being granted access to confidential personnel information.
Employee information shall not be released to any third party without the written request for release of information signed and dated by the employee and verified by an HR representative. Each request for information shall be treated as a separate inquiry, be limited to the information specified in the document and require separate documentation. Where appropriate or in compliance with laws applicable to an employees specific work location, information will be issued to the appropriate authorities with the proper documents authorizing the search and seizure of said information.
Bennett-Alexander, D.D., & Hartman, L.P. (2004). The Right to Privacy and Other Protections from Employer Intrusions. _Employment Law for Business_
(4th). New York: McGraw Hill. (Original work published 1995)
Employee Handbook Company Policy Manual. (2006). In _NUPP Legal._ Retrieved September 8, 2006, from http://www.nupplegal.com/polhanman1.html
Hansson, S. O., Persson, A. J., Jan 2003, Privacy at Work-Ethical Criteria, _Journal of Business Ethics_, Part 1, Vol. 42, Issue 1, p. 59-70, 12p, Retrieved on September 8, 2006, from EBSCOhost website http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdf?vid=29&hid=11&sid=6fd07b5a-b177-42f8-bcd3-def12a5cabc0%40sessionmgr101
Hillstrom, L., Hillstrom, K., 2006, Employee Privacy, _Encyclopedia of Small Business_
_Di-Eq,_ Thomson Gale, Retrieved on September 8, 2006, from