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Small Business Employee Privacy Policies

Important Privacy Policies That Must Be Implemented

If you want to maintain a happy workplace for your small business, then all of the following need to be addressed.

Ethical Employee Privacy Policies
by Tanya Robertson, Demand Media
Confidential employee files should be locked up to prevent unauthorized access.

Employee Privacy

Confidential employee files should be locked up to prevent unauthorized access.

Business owners who want to do the right thing may be unsure of what to include in employee privacy policies. On one side, businesses have the right to monitor the actions of employees while they’re on the job. At the same time, employees also have a reasonable expectation of privacy in certain circumstances. It can be a fine line between what is acceptable, fair and ethical, and what isn’t, and even the courts sometimes waver in how they rule in cases involving employee privacy.

Legally, businesses have the right to monitor employee communications. However, the laws still allow employees a reasonable amount of privacy. For example, an employer is allowed to monitor work-related phone calls, but as soon as a call is determined to be personal in nature, monitoring must cease. The only exception is if the employer has policies in place forbidding personal calls on company phone lines. With emails, courts have upheld that employers are allowed to monitor all emails except in cases where employees are told their emails are kept confidential or are password protected. Internet usage on the job is more restrictive. Employers are allowed to monitor all Internet usage in the workplace and restrict or block employee access to the Web as the company sees fit.
Background Checks

Many companies routinely perform background checks on job applicants before extending an offer of employment. From the employer’s perspective, these checks are necessary to reduce liability by verifying that the information the applicant provided is true. However, employers must stay within reasonable guidelines when it comes to the information obtained. For example, any inquiries must be related to the job the applicant is applying for and the potential employee must be told what information will be checked and then give written consent.
Drug Testing

When it comes to drug testing, employees legally have more privacy rights than job applicants do since they have more to lose should they fail the test. Some industries, including transportation and aviation, are required to follow federal drug testing requirements for all employees. In the private business sector, drug testing is optional and left up to the company to decide how to handle it. Employers cannot force an applicant or employee to take a drug test. However, they can legally choose to deny or terminate employment for refusing to take the test or for failing it. Since procedural drug testing laws vary in each state, it’s important to check your state’s laws to find out exactly what’s allowed and what isn’t before setting or changing your company policy.
Personnel and Medical Records

Employees can reasonably expect that their personnel and medical records are confidential. It’s the employer’s responsibility to make sure that only authorized personnel have access to these records and only for legitimate business purposes. The confidentiality rules on medical records is even stricter. For example, the Americans With Disabilities Act specifies that employers must keep employee disability records separate from personnel files and in a secured location. Other laws, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, also have their own confidentiality requirements on medical records.

About the Author

Tanya Robertson has been writing professionally since 1999 and editing since 2004. She has contributed to Trix 4 Travel and established a writing services company, International Composition. Robertson holds a Bachelor of Science in legal studies and a Master of Business in accounting from Davenport University.
Photo Credits:     Hemera Technologies/ Images