The Times They are A-Changin': Shifting Social Norms and Employee Privacy in the Technological Era
78 Pages Posted: 28 Aug 2013 Last revised: 19 Jun 2014
Date Written: August 28, 2013
When it comes to employee privacy rights in emerging technologies, the times they are a changin.’ In the dawn of the modern technological era, when electronic mail and the Internet were in their relative infancy, the right to privacy meant almost nothing in the workplace. Employers could promise that e-mail would not be monitored, but then proceed to do so anyway. When employees sued, seeking vindication of their perceived privacy rights, courts cast aside any notion that an employee could expect privacy in the workplace, and they did so almost uniformly. The tide, however, appears to be turning. Judicial decisions rendered in more recent years, coupled with comparable statutory reform initiatives, suggest that as social norms shift in light of the rapid development and mainstreaming of modern technologies, the law is affording protection to employees that previously did not exist. This Article takes a retrospective-comparative approach to this turning tide, delving deeply into the law of the early era of modern technology, and juxtaposing it against more recent developments. The result is exposition of an unmistakable trend favoring employee rights. This Article therefore tackles head-on the ultra-modern legal problem of workplace privacy rights in emerging technologies, but it does so in novel ways, as the first to suggest that the trend is shifting toward greater recognition of employee rights at the expense of employer prerogative.
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