Just this week the United States Supreme Court granted review of an important case (pdf) that will impact employers; public employers in particular. The Supreme Court will decide whether employees have an expectation of privacy in the text messages they send on devices owned by their employers. This case is opening the door into the new frontier of law and technology in the workplace.

The case stems from a police sergeant’s use of a City owned pager to send business and personal text messages. The City of Ontario, California had a general computer usage, internet and e-mail policy which was applicable to all employees. The policy stated, users should have no expectation of privacy or confidentiality when using internet and e-mail resources and usage may be monitored. The City had no formal policy governing the use of department pagers, but there was an informal policy established by a police lieutenant that text usage would not be audited, so long as the employee agreed to pay any overage charges for exceeding a 25,000 character limit.

The Supreme Court decision is not expected until next summer, so what can you, as an employer, do now

  1. Make sure policies address all your technology.
  2. Insure your policies are being followed and not contradicted by management.
  3. Train employees on all policies, including new or revised policies.

Remember policies are the workplace rules you have set for your employees to follow, and you need to review these rules on a regular basis and change them when necessary.