Employee Privacy: What are the rights of the employer?

Mar 14, 2018

In October 2017 we posted a series of articles about employee privacy as it relates to the use of employee information by the employer.

This article focuses on where do employees’ rights to privacy end and the employer’s right to protect his business begin? What if the employer needs to protect its company from employee theft? Or have to protect it from slander through employee e-mails? These are just two of the circumstances that could force an employer to invade  employees’ privacy. But before the employer does, it should make sure that it  knows what the company’s obligations are when it comes to employee privacy.

In South Africa, the recent number of court rulings for company slander by employees on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter could see a similar law come into force soon.

However, that does not mean the employer has the right to invade employees’ privacy. Even if the employer suspects them of slandering the company or stealing from it.
The employer needs to know about the company’s obligations when it comes to protecting employee privacy.
Is installing security cameras to watch your employees a breach of employee privacy?
Every employer is entitled to protect its property and can install security cameras in the workplace.
The question often asked is whether employees must be given notice of the security cameras or whether the security cameras can be installed without the employees’ knowledge. The answer to this question generally depends on where the security cameras are installed.
That means installing a security camera, for example, in a general office area is totally acceptable. Putting a camera in the company bathroom/change room, on the other hand, will be seen as a breach in employee privacy.
Is monitoring employee e-mails a breach of employee privacy?
The Electronic Communications and Transactions Act of 2002 states that an employer may intercept the communications of its employees:

  • Where it is a party to such communications;
  • Where the employees have given their prior written consent to interception; or
  • If the communication happens in the course of carrying on the business of the employer.

It is therefore suggested that the employer inserts a communication clause into its employment contract to protect its rights and its employees’ rights to privacy. This will protect both the employer and employee in the event of a communication breach.
Also refer to our article posted in November 2015 – Reading employee e-mails.


Wallace Albertyn

Wallace Albertyn is a Senior Associate and Legal Advisor at LabourMan Consultants.

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