Privacy of an Individual in the Workplace Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

Privacy of an Individual in the Workplace

Argument Length: 2,000 words Task Construct argument notion individual's privacy important consideration workplace, Use ethical theory support position. Rationale This task designed: demonstrate capacity understand evaluate privacy; demonstrate understanding issues encroach individual's privacy workplace; demonstrate ability construct a compelling argument logically consistent supported ethical theory;

Privacy of an individual in the workplace

In the workplace, it is expected that employees must relinquish some of their most valued privacy in order to succeed in their role in the organization. The debate on workplace privacy concerns how much privacy the employees need to give up in their quest for success at their role. The morality, ethicality and legality of monitoring of actions of employees have been challenged in various circles with each side having a strong argument. It is believed that employers need to infringe on the privacy of employees in order to be able to effectively monitor them to ensure they do not engage in illicit activity that impedes their productivity and also to limit their own liability. The employers need to ensure that the employees meet their expectations in the workplace and that they do the job that they are being paid to do. Workplace privacy is important since it helps to eliminate emotional and physical stress such as fatigue and lack of motivation which come as a result of privacy infringement. However, on the other side, employers try to keep the workplace productivity levels high which have created disputes of infringement of privacy and freedom. Moreover, there are no privacy laws that govern privacy in the workplace Cozzetto & Pedeliski, 1997.

Even where there is law that touches on privacy, there are still several issues on which the law is not clear. Workplace privacy is important for employees since it motivates them and makes them feel free in the workplace. However, it creates management and performance issues for the employer. It is therefore important that employees and employers find ways to resolve the privacy issues by ensuring employees are kept in check and that at the same time, they have their freedom. Workplace privacy is not an important consideration in the workplace since there are other issues that bear more importance such as disability employment, discrimination, and health and safety which bear more importance legally, morally and ethically.

Legality of workplace privacy

The law does not explicitly state the legality or illegality of workplace privacy activities. Privacy cases have also been decided on an ad hoc basis. In 2001 Cramer v. Consolidated Freightways, it was decided that the privacy laws of California were violated by the employer who had installed video and audio surveillance in the employee bathrooms. In Halford v. The United Kingdom, it was decided that listening in on the calls made by Ms. Halford from her work telephone was a breach of her right to privacy. In 1992 Deal v. Spears, the court ruled that employees do not give employers their consent to monitor their calls even where the employer had stated the calls would be monitored to keep personal calls in check. In O'Connor v. Ortega, it was decided that there was some privacy that was expected in the workplace such as in desks and file cabinets. In K-Matt Corp. Store No. 7441 v. Trotti, it was decided that the search of an employee locker violated their freedom of privacy Frayer, 2002()

There is certain legislation that dwells on workplace privacy. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act prohibits employers from intentionally intercepting electronic communications. The National Labor Relations Act provides a framework for organizing labor and ensuring that labor practices are fair. In this act, it can be decided that workplace privacy is a fair workplace practice. The Employee Polygraph Protection Act protects employees in the private sector from being exposed to polygraph test. Government employees and contractors, on the other hand are still subject to polygraph tests. The Connecticut statute requires employees to be notified when they will be electronically monitored. Despite the presence of this legislation on workplace privacy, there are still issues that are not covered by law. In California, Shoars v. Epson, it was ruled that the California state law that protected employees from electronic surveillance did not extend to email. This case shows that the laws and statutes on workplace privacy are relatively limited thus they cannot be relied on to base a legal argument for workplace privacy Griffaton & Porter, 2003()

Ethicality of workplace privacy

In order to look at the ethicality of workplace privacy, it is essential to go through the ethical theories which will be the basis for this ethical analysis of workplace privacy. Three ethical theories will be used. The first is the utilitarian theory. This theory looks at the consequence of the action in order to evaluate its ethicality. The rationality of this theory is that the most important thing is to get the result desired. Therefore provided the consequence is achieved, the action can be evaluated as ethical. The second theory is the deontological theory which evaluates the ethical nature of the action itself solely without looking at its consequence. One thing that is looked at in the deontological theory is the golden rule. This means that the action should apply to the rule of doing something to others that you would want them to do to you. In the deontological theory, the Kantian ethics will be used. The last theory is the social contract theory. This is the implicit social contract that exists between the citizen and the state in which they live in. This theory looks at the set of moral and legal rules of the state which the citizen should follow in their actions.

Utilitarian view of workplace privacy

The utilitarian theory states that the end justifies the means. According to this theory, infringement of workplace privacy is right if the benefit to the management of the organization and the organization in general is greater than the harm that it causes to the employees. Calculating the benefit of workplace privacy for the employees and the employer is a difficult task therefore it is generally assumed that if infringing the privacy of employees in the workplace improves their productivity, it is ethical.

It has been argued that the benefit of workplace privacy for the company depends on the type of business that the company is in. In a company that requires employees to use their physical ability such as manufacturing industries, then monitoring helps to ensure the productivity of employees is as high as possible and that they do not waste time in doing other tasks that are counterproductive. In a company that relies more on creativity and critical analysis to succeed, then close monitoring may serve as a demotivation factor for the employees since it may limit their thoughts and innovation and also encourage resentment Reynolds, 2003()

In terms of monitoring phone calls, when employers monitor calls in order to reduce the use of work telephones for personal calls, the financial benefit is great. This is because the amount that the company pays for phone bills will be reduced considerably by limiting the use of work telephones to business calls only. Therefore, as a result of the financial savings, the action can be viewed as ethical.

Background checks conducted on employees can be seen as ethical or unethical. According to a Harris Interactive Poll on Privacy, it is ethical for an employer to conduct a background check if they wish to confirm the educational achievements and employment history of the employee or to check criminal conviction records Griffaton & Porter, 2003.

However, it is unethical if the employer's reason for conducting the background check is to find out the credit history of the employee or if they have filed a worker's compensation claim against a previous employer.

Deontological theory

According to Kantianism, the actions undertaken by a person are guided by the morality of the act itself and not its consequences. Kantianism looks at the action from two formulas. According to the first formula, an act of monitoring in the workplace is moral if the universal rule would be that people should be allowed to monitor each other for their own benefit. This makes infringement of workplace privacy immoral and unethical. This proposed universal rule is not applicable in the world since it defeats the core value of goodwill.

According to the second formula, monitoring and infringement of workplace privacy is unethical as a result of the managers demanding higher productivity from their employees rather than making themselves better people. This means that the actions of the employee make them increase their productivity at work but do not improve their knowledge, skills and abilities in the workplace therefore do not better them in their life. Employers also infringe on workplace privacy of their employees since they wish to eliminate the threat of liability as a result of employees lacking due diligence Rosenberg, 1999.

Therefore these actions are unethical.

Kantianism's first and second formulations also discredit…

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