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Privacy: No Rights On The Job

In part three of This Morning's special series Privacy Lost, the issue is employers who spy on their workers. It happens more often than you might think. Co-anchor Jane Robelot interviews a civil liberties official about what your rights are - or in this case, are not.

Before she left what she thought was her dream job in the Los Angeles music business, Laura Connelly uncovered a surprise on top of the shelf in her office, put there by her boss. She recalls,

"I could see the cord was coming out and it was plugged in. I pulled it out and saw that it was a Radio Shack baby monitor."

A monitor used to listen in on her. While a baby monitor may be an rare tool for workplace spying, the spying itself is becoming very common. According to a study by the American Management Association, employers say they use a host of ways to keep tabs on employees.
Five percent review employee voice mail, 10 percent tape phone calls, 14 percent check computer files and 34 percent use video surveillance - catching everything from midday drinking to storeroom pilfering.

Some employers make unwitting stars out of employees who might find themselves on the popular television show, Busted on the Job where, says producer Danny Wolf, you could see "anyone on the job caught doing what they shouldn't be doing."

One nursery school teacher was caught eating on the job. Wolf says, "When the kids were out playing, she was going through their lunch boxes and stealing their food. And eating it."

Monitoring employees has long been used in service businesses, like catalog sales, or when theft is a concern, such as among airport baggage handlerse. But now, workplace spying is becoming part of the job in offices all over, and rarely are employees told they're being spied on.

Laura Connelly says, "I think it's a total invasion of privacy. I think it's completely outrageous that somebody should be able to listen to you without you knowing. It's like somebody bugging your telephone"

Lewis Maltby, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Workplace Privacy Project, says legally, employees have almost no privacy rights on the job:

"The federal wiretapping laws say your boss, at least in theory, isn't supposed to listen to personal telephone calls you make on the job. But when it comes to anything else, conversations with co-workers, e-mail, voice mail, web sites you visit, hidden cameras, you have no legal protection at all."

Maltby says there are circumstances that warrant employee monitoring:
"The line ought to be situations where the boss has some reason to think that something is going on that shouldn't be going on - if there is reason to suspect some sort of misconduct by the employees, you have to find out, maybe even by using some sort of secret monitoring."

He adds, however, that the line can get blurred:
"I'm concerned about the employees were even the boss knows no one is doing anything wrong. There are no grounds or suspicion and they are spying anyway. That's what's wrong."

The boss doesn't have to tell you ahead of time that your phone calls may be monitored, or that you may be taped, and Maltby thinks "that's the least the law ought to provide but it doesn't. Not only can your boss spy on you without any reason, they don't have to tell you they are doing it."

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