Vigilant Blog

News, trends and analysis in employment law, HR, safety & workers' comp

Jul 06, 2010

No privacy in text messages sent from employer-owned pager


Reversing a Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals decision that Vigilant reported on nearly two years ago, the Supreme Court recently ruled that a city employer didnt violate the rights of several California police officers when it searched text messages sent from city-owned pagers (City of Ontario v. Quon, US, June 2010).

Officers could use the pagers for personal use, but excessive overage charges triggered a city-conducted search that turned up sexually explicit messages. While the Ninth Circuit ruled that the search violated the officers privacy rights, the Supreme Court said the citys search was okay because it was work-related and not excessive in scope. Interestingly, the high court also noted that the search would be regarded as reasonable and normal in the private-employer context.

Tips: Although public employees have different privacy rights, the courts decision certainly strengthens a private employers right to conduct electronic monitoring of employee conduct. If you conduct electronic searches, be sure theyre narrowly focused on a business-related purpose and inform employees that they shouldnt expect privacy with regard to any activity conducted on company-owned equipment. State laws vary in this regard, so check out our Legal Guide, Electronic Communications in the Workplace (1337) for more information.

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