a-text.jpgIs there any privacy in the workplace? Maybe.

A police officer thought he had some privacy when he was texting sexually explicit messages to his mistress on a pager that was provided to him by his employer.

There was no official policy saying employees on the force could not use the pager for personal messages, and officers were also asked to pay for text messaging that went over a certain text allotment so the officer figured it was cool if he texted whatever the heck he wanted.

Not so, claimed his employer, the Ontario, California police department. Department officials searched Police Sgt. Jeff Quon’s text messages and found the sex texts and that’s when Quon cried foul. He and several other officers sued the department for invasion of privacy.

I know what you all are thinking. In most cases, if you send personal messages via email or even use a company phone for personal stuff extensively, you could end up in trouble at work. The phone, the computer, etc. are the property of your employer so they could require you not to conduct personal business over what has been deemed by many courts as a company’s airwaves.

Well, turns out a circuit court found in favor of Quon and the other officers, and after an appeal by the police department the Supreme Court has now agreed to hear the case.

If the high court finds in the employees favor this could have far-reaching implications for workers throughout the country.

“If the Supreme Court upholds the Ninth Circuit decision, it is going to turn things upside down because all of a sudden employees will have a right of privacy despite what an employer might say,” said Bryan Cave attorney Roy Hadley, who specializes in electronic media and communications. “It will also raise questions about what kind of liability will employers be held accountable for if they can’t view their workers’ communications. Historically, if an employee is using their email account for illegal activity, there may be some liability on the part of an employer, especially if the employer monitored the account.”

This is one case we should all be watching going forward and I’ll provide updates here for you in 2010.

What’s your take? Were the officers correct in expecting some degree of privacy even though they were using their employer’s equipment?

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