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California Employee Privacy Rights in the Workplace

Posted by Eric Kingsley | Jun 19, 2023 | 0 Comments

All California residents have the right to privacy in the workplace. The state's Constitution gives workers the right to sue employers of violations of their right to privacy. In order to prove a violation of privacy, the employee must show that the employer violated his or her reasonable expectation of privacy.

Understanding Your Right to Privacy in the Workplace

California employee privacy rights refer to protections employees have that prevent employers from intruding into your personal life and probing into matters that are not related to work. These rights are guaranteed to workers under Article 1, Section 1 of the California Constitution in addition to the state's labor code.

Privacy laws set forth what your employer can or can't do when it comes to your personal information. Understanding these laws are important for employees in the workplace.

For example, employers have the right to monitor your emails or communications on company-owned equipment such as cell phones and computers. However, they cannot ask you to turn over login credentials or passwords to your social media or other personal accounts.

Background checks are also generally legal in California and may disclose information to employers about a worker's criminal convictions, credit report or immigration records. Employers can also use video surveillance in workplaces provided that it is meant for security purposes and employees have been notified about the cameras before they are recorded.

Under California law it is a crime for an employer to eavesdrop confidential communication or record a conversation without your permission.  If you believe that your employer is in violation of your rights, it may be in your best interest to contact a Los Angeles Employment lawyer and schedule a free consultation.

Email and Social Media Privacy

Employers typically have the right to access data in company-issued equipment such as laptops and cell phones. This means they can monitor your business phone calls, computer use, emails, text messages or other electronic communications and even voicemail messages.

Most companies in California have a policy in place informing you that they have a right to monitor the above. So, it would be in your best interest to make sure that you conduct private conversations or communications on your personal cell phone or computer, which your employer has no right to monitor.

When it comes to social media, California law does allow employers to monitor employees' social media accounts such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or TikTok. However, your employer cannot force you to give them your username or password to access your social media account or force you to access a personal social media account in their presence.

Background Checks and Medical Records

Lawful background checks can provide all kinds of sensitive information to your criminal history to a credit report, driving history, or your immigration records. Employers have the right to perform such checks especially in cases where it is relevant.

For example, if you are being hired to work with children, your employer will want to check if you have committed any crimes against children. If you are being hired to drive, your employer will want to check your driving record.

However, when it comes to employees' medical records, California law is very strict and limits medical information employers can seek to those that determine your ability to perform certain job functions. In California, requiring an employee to submit to a drug test is allowed only if you are an applicant for a new job.

You can be tested as long as all other job applicants are tested. Random drug tests of existing employees are generally considered unreasonable without suspicion or specific information.

Is Surveillance in the Workplace Legal?

Employers can use video cameras for workplace monitoring only when it is for security purposes and when employees have received notification about the cameras. Employers are prohibited from recording certain proceedings involving employees such as those related to union organizing.

In addition, employers cannot place cameras in areas where employees have a reasonable expectation of privacy.  This can include places such as restrooms, locker rooms, breast milk pumping rooms or changing rooms.

With regard to audio records, California requires consent from all parties who are being recorded. Secretly recording private or confidential communications is a violation of employee rights. Under California Penal Code Section 632, eavesdropping is a crime as well.

Does California Have a 'Ban the Box' Law?

California's "Ban the Box" law of the California Fair Chance Act aims to remove barriers to employment for individuals who have been convicted of a crime. These laws essentially prohibit employers in California from asking about a person's criminal record during the preliminary application process.

Therefore, it gives individuals to be evaluated based on their qualifications and not lose an opportunity for employment simply because they have a criminal record. This law applies to private employers who have five or more employees.

How Our Lawyers Can Help You

Laws governing workplace privacy can be complex and challenging. While it may appear that your employer has the right to monitor your activities, that does not mean that your employer has unilateral rights.

You do have the right to expect privacy in your workplace. If you believe that your privacy rights are being violated by your employer, it is important that you contact an experienced California employment attorney who will examine the facts of your case and help you determine if you have a lawsuit against your employer.

Schedule your free consultation today by simply filling out the contact form on this page.

About the Author

Eric Kingsley

Eric B. Kingsley is a 2023 "Best In Law" Award winner and has litigated over 150 class actions. He is also an AV peer rated attorney and a prolific speaker at various seminars on employment law.


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