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Would You View Employee Text Messages If You Could?

I'm not big on throwing up every court decision on this blog (I'll leave that to the employment law experts), but here's an interesting one from last week. 

From a Workforce report:

"A unanimous three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco alsoText_messaging held in its decision June 18 in Quon v. Arch Wireless Operating Co. Inc. that the city of Ontario, California, had violated the constitutional privacy rights of a police officer and the recipients of his text messages when it obtained copies of the messages from Arch Wireless Operating, a unit of Westborough, Massachusetts-based Arch Wireless Inc. Arch provided two-way alphanumeric pages under contract with the city.

According to the decision, Jeff Quon exceeded his monthly allotted characters in his text messages several times. He was told the Ontario Police Department would audit his messages unless he paid an overage fee, which he did. But the city still asked Arch Wireless to send it transcripts of his messages to ascertain whether they were work-related.

Quon and the recipients of his messages subsequently sued, claiming violations of the Stored Communications Act and the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unlawful seizure."

From a HR standpoint, I'm surprised.  I've always thought that if an employer paid for a service, which it appears is the case here, they have a right to the call detail or volume reports.  I suspect the real issue is that the employer asked for transcripts (not volume, but actual messages) of the messages under the umbrella of "work-related", even after he paid for the overage. 

That's not a great decision from a management standpoint.  Looking at the content of the messages opens the employer up to a world of liability, etc. that they didn't have before they had access to the content.

Sounds like a jaded/vindictive manager or department to me.  Bad stuff when you mix business with pure privacy issues.  Reading text messages is the digital equivalent of listening to phone calls that employees make.

Bad stuff, whether it's legal or not.... 


Alex Cantu

I don't think it’s in the best interest of a company to view peoples text messaging. The employee will definitely get the sense that his or her company doesn't trust them. As for calls in the office, I think all personal call should be taken during lunch or out of the office. If you have to make a call just step out for 5 and there is no problem. If you want people to listen to your personal life in the office be ready to face the consequences.

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