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Another way for employers to get into trouble


Most claims against private employers for invasion of privacy are dismissed because employees have no “reasonable expectation of privacy” in most areas of the workplace.  A restaurant in New Jersey recently discovered a novel way to violate an employee’s rights by violating a federal statute.

A manager at a Houston’s restaurant pressured an employee to give him her password to Spec-Tator, a website on MySpace that is supposed to be private and accessible only to invited members.  Using the password, the manager discovered some unflattering behavior of another employee and proceeded to fire her.  The fired employee sued for invasion of privacy and violation of the Stored Communications Act, the federal statute that normally governs wiretapping.

A jury found the restaurant liable, finding that the manager accessed the website without authorization several different times.  As a result, it awarded both compensatory and punitive damages against the employer.

Many employers use social networking sites to gather information about job applicants, and that is generally ok as long as they follow certain guidelines to ensure that they don’t discriminate for off-duty conduct like smoking or drinking, the applicant’s political beliefs, or on the basis of protected characteristic like religion or disability.  What is not ok is accessing information that you know you are not supposed to access. 

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