Employee Privacy at Work

Employee Privacy at Work

Employees' privacy is protected by law - here are two examples:

By Marcia Gold

Can HR ask staff about their private conversations?

As an employee, you have a legal right to privacy in the workplace. This means that you should be free to conduct private conversations with your colleagues on work premises without having to disclose the details to your employer.

HR should therefore have no reason to ask you about any private discussions, and you’re under no obligation to answer their questions. If they force you to answer, this could constitute harassment or bullying. This applies regardless of whether the discussion took place in person, by telephone or by email.

Your employer can monitor your communication only if they have just cause to do so. They must also tell you about their policy, except in cases where illegal activity is suspected.

Can HR ask where you are on days off?

You have a fundamental legal right to respect for your private and family life. Therefore employers don’t have the right to make unwarranted or intrusive enquiries about what you do away from the office in your own time.

The only exception to this is if they have reason to believe that you have behaved in a way that brings the company into disrepute, or otherwise breached your conditions of employment. Depending on your contract, you may be barred from moonlighting (having another job) or contacting clients outside of work. In these cases, your employer should make their allegations clear and allow you the opportunity to seek legal or union representation.