For most people, the right to privacy comes down to confidential information related to their intimate sphere: health, sexual orientation, bank account, etc. Therefore, one could think that there is no right to privacy in the workplace, and be in the wrong.
The Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms specifically acknowledges the right for each individual to privacy and the Supreme Court has clearly stated that an individual’s right to privacy is not limited to their doorstep. Even people walking on the street do have the right to privacy. This right follows the individuals wherever they go, including their workplace.
Considering the technological era in which we now live, e-communications and globalization, it can prove difficult to control everything.
On the one hand, an employee has the right not to be observed and followed all the time. Just like they can use the phone at their disposal at work for private conversations, employees can use email for private exchange, even if the equipment belongs to the employer.
On the other hand, the employer can monitor and control work if they have reasonable grounds to do so, and the methods used to monitor and control must be reasonable and justifiable in order to ensure proper business functioning.
Setting the limits within the organization
According to the nature of its business, an organization can set the limits with regard to the use of some means of electronic communication with a well-written policy.
For example, some SME frequently use Internet to communicate more easily (Skype, Windows Live Messenger, etc.) while others forbid their employees to install Internet on their work station.
Organizational culture represents one of the various existing ways to monitor, that can replace the employer. In a SME where loyalty and sense of duty towards the company are very strong, peer-group influence and examples set by co-workers will help limit the misuse of means of communication available to employees.
To conclude, employers do not have to tolerate the use of Internet during working hours, and do not have either to allow their employees to browse at their expense and visit Web sites that are not relevant to their duties. A written policy will establish the right for the employer to check all Web sites visited by the employees as well as proper disciplinary action to take in case of misuse (porn sites or illegal activities), all of this without violating the employees’ right to privacy.