Employee Privacy Rights Research Proposal


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Employee Privacy Rights Research Proposal

Richard Lee

Columbia Southern University


Are employees’ rights violated when employers monitor their Internet and e-mail usage? In regards to information and telecommunications, there are some limitations to employee’s rights to privacy in the work place. They include, websites visited by the employee and internet usage monitoring, limitations related to appropriate office telephone use for personal vs. business use, emails sent/received by employees over the workplace network whether internal or external (i.e. Hotmail or Yahoo mail), and lastly, appropriate use of employee accessed confidential information for daily work purposes. For example, publicly traded companies employees can have access to information of a sensitive nature pertaining to the company that could affect significant organization stock price movements and it is illegal for an employees to utilize this information for personal gain (Stanwick & Stanwick, 2009). By the same token, employees frequently have access to organization owned databases, other databanks, and research sources which are not for personal use.

Emails exchanged over the company exchange server are monitored. This is to ensure that inappropriate e-mails are sent or received, and that no sensitive company information is sent to unauthorized parties. This process also prevents email which can be sent with sexual harassment intent.

To prevent the misuse of sensitive information to being put into the hand of unauthorized parties a company can deploy hardware and high quality firewall software. By the same token, information needs to only be swapped over with other offices utilizing secured means or Virtual Private Networks. It is essential that company’s publish their policy on this and ensure understand it and what to do in the event a compromise happens.

Problem Statement

In the US, companies are advised to monitor everything that is done by the employees on their work computers and networks. All emails employees sends and receives are scanned routinely. Employment contracts are cancelled for misusing emails. The computer systems are owned by the company, and thus they are allowed to monitor anything sent thru them. Employees feel this is a violation of their privacy rights while employers monitor their Internet and e-mail usage.

Rational for the research

In today’s society virtually all jobs require the utilization of Internet usage and e-mail and this points to the question of privacy of Internet, telephone, and e-mail message usage in the workplace. E-mail messages are not private and in general this the way most employers feel. The Stored Wire Electronic Communications Act and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act are both generally known as the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA). The Federal Wiretap Act of 1968 was updated by the ECPA which addressed telephone conversation interception, but did not apply to interception of electronic communication, computer or other digital communications (Walsh, 2013). The ever popular USA PATRIOT Act, which was a subsequent piece of legislation to update and clarify the ECPA in order for keeping up with new methods and communications technologies, ultimately removing some of the restrictions on levied on the access to stored communications by law enforcement agencies. Current court cases, surveys, and laws, will be examined in order to determine if employers are within their rights in protecting company resources or are the privacy rights of employee’s being violated.


The objective and purpose of this research is to educate employees where they stand when it comes to their technology privacy in the workplace pertaining to electronic transmission using their employer’s network or communication resources. This study will also examine if employee privacy rights are violated when an employer monitors employee e-mail and Internet usage. Finally, this study will identify to employees that they should not have expectations of privacy relative to electronic communications when sending personal emails from the company computer (Walsh, 2013).


Employers are not violating employee privacy rights when they monitor an employee’s e-mail, telecommunication and Internet usage. One needs to realize that there is a fine line between employee privacy rights and the employer right to protect their business. Most employees are not aware of their employers’ legal right to review and monitor their e-mail communications. Employees will openly accept their employers electronic monitoring when their employers identifies this in policy upfront. Conversely, when employers have policies concerning this issue their employees will more than likely not send inappropriate or talk about inappropriate messages or conversations. Having this policy in place will not have a major impact on if an employee will or will not send an inappropriate or appropriate e-mail messages.

Definition of Terms

Personal gain: An employee has only their personal interest at heart and there is not public gain from their actions.

Publicly traded: An corporate organization which is traded in the over the counter market, has issued securities through an initial public offering and is traded on at least one stock exchange.

Electronic communication: The exchange of information from one person to another utilizing phones, fax, e-mail or computers.

Electronic Communications Privacy Act: A U.S. law which forbids third parties from disclosing or intercepting communications without permission.

USA PATRIOT Act: Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism


Preliminary results identified some employees continue to believe a company’s computer assigned to them is their personal property and cannot be viewed by the employer or it is a violation of employee privacy rights. However, there are legal cases that show employers have the right to monitor computers because the company is ultimately liable for improper acts committed with company computers

Key research questions: 1. Are employee privacy rights violated when an employer monitors the employees Internet usage? 2. Do business managers/owners have the right to protect company resources by reading employee e-mails? 3. Should work centers establish and implement policies that equally protect the employee and employer? 4. Has the past few years brought about a reduction or increase in employer monitoring and is it still required?

Maxwell’s nine central arguments with responses

1. What do we need to better understand your topic?

One needs to realize that there is a fine line between employee privacy rights and the employer right to protect their business. Although employees have privacy rights, they are not necessarily violated in relations to company policies.

2. What do we know little about in terms of your topic?

Although employee privacy rights are immediately believed to be automatic, this is not an accurate belief of factual belief. This research will review cases or complaints filed by employees and thus far, most cases of employee privacy rights in regards to Internet and email usage are not won by employees.

4. What are the setting and the people that you will study?

I will conduct interviews in the offices of employees in their natural habitat, both civilian government, non-government employees and military employees. I will identify how they work, identify their level of participation, identify if they are supervisors or basic workers, are they highly involved.

I will look for involved participation by asking open-ended questions. I will ask how they would protect employee privacy rights since that is the topic of the research. If there are written employee rights or computer rights plans, I will have them show me the plan. We will talk about the plan in detail. They will be asked if they believe the plan is fair and if they understand why the plan is written in its particular language. I will try to elicit the humanistic and interactive side of the office members. I will show my involvement by explaining the different policy plans on employee rights dealing with computer and Internet monitoring, hopefully to show the interviewee my humanistic side.

During the interview, I will identify the sounds in the work area, the atmosphere in the work area and other items deemed necessary for the qualitative research. This process will lead me to the strategy of inquiry, where we will explore the process, activities, and events of the organization of members being interviewed. Two parts of the strategy of inquiry utilized will be grounded theory and case studies. The grounded theory is the comparison of like data or ensuring there is a constant comparison by sampling different groups. This will be achieved by interviewing the government and non-government employees, military and non-military.

5. What methods do you plan to use to provide data?

Conduct a qualitative research that takes place in natural settings. The characteristics of qualitative studies will be utilized in the research. Conduct interviews in natural habitat of interviewees. Identify how the employees work. Identify their level of participation while in their natural settings. Are they supervisors, are they highly involved, what effort do they give in their environment. I will look for involved participation. Witness the humanistic and interactive side of the office members.

Additional pieces of conducting qualitative research that takes place in natural settings would be to observe or listen to the sounds in the work area. The research conducted will be fundamentally interpretive, personal interpretation will be a factor.

Explore the process, activities, and events using strategy of inquiry specifically, the grounded theory and some case studies. Provide some background information towards the strategies of inquiry. After the completion of the strategies of inquiry, I will proceed to the researcher’s role in this particular qualitative research campaign.

Conduct personal interview - The genuine concern about employee behavior can be portrayed in the sincerity of the person conducting the interview. Questions that are more precise can be asked which could lead to identifying the specific person or persons concerning privacy rights. Personal communication can evoke emotion that could not be detected during a written survey.

Self-administered - Survey administered to all employees with an assurance of confidentiality. Individuals would be more willing to divulge information if they believe it will not be traced backed to them. No fear of losing job when survey is answered honestly and the truth may eradicate pent up feelings towards employee privacy.

6. How will you analyze the data?

The data collected will identify purposefully selected sites and/or individuals utilizing interviews and documents. This data will be recorded using observational protocol as identified in the textbook, Research Design written by John W. Creswell. Some of the recording procedures will be observational protocol, interview protocol and the recording of documents and visual materials. From the data collection phase, we will proceed to the data analysis and interpretation phase.

steps planed to analyze data

steps as they apply directly to project, the research strategy you plan to use, and data that you have collected

Step 1 – Organize and prepare data

Organize data collected from documents obtained from Proquest database, Prepare notes from interview conduct with own military organization, from interview with two civilian companies

Step 2 – Read all data

Read all data to get a sense and feel of the overall data collected

Step 3 – Identify a code as a shorthand

Give each significant item a specific code to be readily identified on all documents and notes

Step 4 - Describe each code

Use the codes to arrange ideas or themes

Step 5 – Narrative

Summarize info

Step 6 – Interpret all data

This is the final interpretation of all data collected

7. How will you validate your findings?

I will validate my findings by ensuring open-mindedness throughout validation. Ensure individuals did not feel threatened while interviews were conducted. Check consistency on different web sites and surveys or reports. Validation may occur in different forms however, ensuring everything and situation is accurately presented will be a key in validation.

8. What ethical issues will your study present?

This study may present ethical issues concerning government versus non-government employee policies. As a researcher I am a government employee therefore I must ensure there is zero bias towards the way government employee policies weight against non-government employee policies. I need to ensure personnel being interviewed do not feel their comments will be swayed towards personal beliefs if they are non-government employees. Civilian versus military may become an ethical issue if someone perceives they will not receive fair questioning or the results of the interview may be skewed. Websites viewed need to reflect all versions of the story or when identified that information needs to be explained as coming from said source.

9. What do preliminary results show about the practicability and value of the proposed study?

Preliminary results identified some employees continue to believe a company’s computer assigned to them is their personal property and cannot be viewed by the employer or it is a violation of employee privacy rights. However, there are legal cases that show employers have the right to monitor computers because the company is ultimately liable for improper acts committed with company computers.


I. INTRO - Background information

A. Employees believe their privacy rights are violated when their e-mail and Internet usage is monitored by their employer.

a. What rights do employees have?

b. Are employee rights limited once they become employee the company?

B. Do business managers have the right to protect resources by reading employee e-mails?

a. Should an employer monitor employee email and Internet traffic?

b. Update computer screen log on with warning of possible monitoring.

C. Should work centers establish and implement policies that equally protect the employee and employer?

a. Develop policy to inform employees of proper computer usage.

b. Implement certain software and equipment to help monitor.

D. Has recent years brought about a reduction or increase in employer monitoring?

E. What do I think based on the research conducted?

F. Last paragraph (CONCLUSION)


Alper , B. R (2008,April). Managing the Electronic Workplace.Computer and Internet

Lawyer,25(4),1-9. Retrieved April 20, 2008, from ABI/INFORM Globaldatabase. (Document ID:1458618611).

Creswell, J. W. (2003) Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed method approaches

(2nd ed.). California: Sage Publications


PRIVACY.Law Technology,40(3),1-18. Retrieved April 20, 2008, from Research Librarydatabase. (Document ID:1413189891).

G Stoney, A,Ambrose, M. L.,Noel, T.W.(2006). The Effect of Formal Advance Notice and

Justification on Internet Monitoring Fairness: Much About Nothing?Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies,13(1),93-107. Retrieved April 20, 2008, from ABI/INFORM Globaldatabase. (Document ID:1137036261).

Government Accounting Office (GOA) (2002, September) EMPLOYEE PRIVACY

Computer-Use Monitoring Practices and Policies of Selected Companies, Retrieved Apr 20, 2008, from http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d02717.pdf

Kallos, J., (2007,December). WHY YOUR BUSINESS NEEDS AN E-MAIL

POLICY.Management Quarterly,48(4),40-43. Retrieved May 3, 2008, from

ABI/INFORM Globaldatabase. (Document ID:1447280851).

Latto, A., (2007, April). Managing Risk from Within: Monitoring Employees the Right

Way.Risk Management,54(4),30-34. Retrieved May 3, 2008, from ABI/INFORM Globaldatabase. (Document ID:1255455821).

Nolan, Dennis R (Spring 2003). Privacy and Profitability in the Technological Workplace.

Journal of Labor Research Spring, 24, Retrieved Apr 20, 2008, from Ebscohost research database (Document ID: 9152370)

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