The privacy rights of employees are under threat from the most basic of workplace communications. Using supposedly safe, encrypted systems is putting personal information at risk, as there is no right to employee privacy on messengers once work topics appear. How can both employees and employers tackle this difficult issue?
Privacy Rights and Employees
Employees’ privacy rights vary hugely around the world. While no-one expects to hear that such rights are protected in China, some might be surprised to hear that employees have no clear right of privacy in the US. In Europe, by contract, there has been a growing interest in privacy and a rise in protections for citizens in every area of their lives.
When it comes to employee privacy, WeChat, WhatsApp, Telegram and other messaging systems have created a problem area. Employees use them for a range of casual conversations with one another, as if they were talking in person. But these apps put that conversation in writing, and an employer may have rights to the record of communications sent in and about work. WhatsApp messages have been cited in court cases, as in a decision around harassment and unfair dismissal at PNC Global Logistics. This is particularly likely to come up if decisions are made or information sent to clients over messaging services.
Balancing Privacy Interests
One of the biggest challenges when protecting employee privacy is striking a balance between this and other rights. Customers have a right to records relating to them that can run counter to an employee’s desire for privacy. A company has a duty to maintain control over its legitimate business records, and this can extend to records of electronic communications about business matters.
Balancing these interests means bringing in clear rules. That can be tricky when, as at a company like TiVo, half the devices being used are employees’ personal devices and only half are owned by the company. This blurs the boundary between the private and the corporate, when what’s needed is a clearer segregation between the two.
How Employers Can Protect Employee Privacy
To protect the privacy rights of employees using messengers, business communication has to be governed by clear rules. Companies should set out guidelines for how these apps are to be used. When messaging will take place at work, these guidelines should include what information will be monitored on work devices and in work facilities, so that employees know what will remain private and what won’t.
For the sake of protecting businesses data, messengers can be separated off from other data, using compartmentalization and mobile device management software. This should not only separate confidential employer data on messengers from the data of employees, but also clearly show employees the scope of monitoring. We have previously discussed, whether employees should use their personal devices for work in this article.
Where possible, companies shouldn’t be trying to retain data from employees’ personal phones. The easiest way to ensure this isn’t needed is to ban the use of messengers as business communication software and keep electronic coms to email. One of world’s largest banks has gone so far as to ban WhatsApp and texting on company phones, to hold back a move of business communication to messengers.
Such rules may seem inconvenient to employees, and they can close down useful communication tools, but part of their purpose is to protect employees’ rights.
How Employees Can Protect Their Own Privacy
As an employee, there are steps you can take to preserve your privacy. You may have an obligation to hand over data if it becomes the subject of litigation, and if messaging chains combine personal and business issues then both will come to light. To protect your own privacy, it’s therefore best not to put business messaging anywhere private. If you want to message clients, WeChat or WhatsApp is a bad idea if it isn’t integrated with your company’s systems.
It’s also important to be aware of the limits of privacy. Messaging can feel as casual as conversation, but it’s more likely to have legal consequences. Employers have a responsibility to make this clear, but it’s on employees to consider the consequences and act responsibly.
LeapXpert solution for employee privacy
Our jobs are part of our lives, casual conversations important to the smooth running of our jobs. Both employees and employers can take steps to minimize the blurring of the lines and to protect the privacy of workers in the 21st century. Separation it the key.
LeapXpert messaging B2C platform provides employees the tools to separate their personal messaging from the business, by using different messengers for each purpose. Personal communication can and will always stay on the personal favorite messaging app.
All business communication between the employees, their colleagues and clients will be performed on LeapXpert desktop and mobile platforms. The platform allows employees to send text, voice and file messages to client’s messengers: WhatsApp, WeChat, Telegram, Line and others.
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