Every employee has a rea­son­able expec­ta­tion of pri­vacy when they use the phone, send an email, use the inter­net, store per­sonal belong­ings at work, etc. But employ­ers have the right to take mea­sures to detect theft, thwart the dis­clo­sure of con­fi­den­tial infor­ma­tion, and pre­vent discrimination.

The res­o­lu­tion between these com­pet­ing inter­est is that if you tell your employ­ees that you plan to mon­i­tor their activ­i­ties dur­ing work, they no longer have a rea­son­able expec­ta­tion of pri­vacy. You may give this notice in the employee hand­book or through posted notices. If you get writ­ten con­sent from your employ­ees acknowl­edg­ing your pol­icy, that’s even better.

But there are lim­its. You should have a busi­ness neces­sity when you mon­i­tor your employ­ees or con­duct a search. If you come across some­thing that is per­sonal and non-work related, then stop read­ing it or mon­i­tor­ing it. Be care­ful in how you limit off-duty activ­i­ties such as office romances, but be wary of romances between a super­vi­sor and sub­or­di­nate. Be con­sis­tent in any dis­ci­pli­nary action. Never search your employee’s per­son. Call the police to con­duct such a search. Limit your searches to company-owned prop­erty and try not to search the employee’s per­sonal property.