There is a general presumption that workplace privacy does not exist under any circumstances. However, that is not always the case. The state Constitution grants privacy rights and a private right of action to file a lawsuit against employers who violate those rights. It states in relevant part that: “All people are by nature free and independent and have inalienable rights. Among these are enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing, and protecting property, pursuing and obtaining safety, happiness, and privacy.”
The courts have decided that the main issue is whether the employee has a “reasonable expectation of privacy.” So, for example, employers are allowed to monitor internet usage or business email communications. Nevertheless, employers are not permitted to conduct surveillance in bathrooms or locker rooms. An employer may be held liable for disclosing the employee’s termination reasons, arrests, convictions, credit reports, misconduct reports, medical information, or confidential communications.
Employers are usually interested in social media activities of their actual or potential employees. They may review their social media accounts to make hiring decisions. However, California Labor Code § 980 prohibits employers from requesting disclosure of usernames or passwords of social media accounts. It also prohibits employers to require the employees to access personal social media accounts in their presence. California Labor Code § 980 states in relevant part that an employer shall not require or request an employee or applicant for employment to do any of the following: