Wisconsin residents have a reasonable right to privacy in their personal lives, which is established by and respected under the law. At work, however, there are far fewer privacy protections. Still, less protection does not mean none, so it is still possible for an employer to violate employment law by violating a worker’s privacy.
Employers usually have wide protections to search company property. Company property includes physical items, such as desks and company vehicles, as well as technology. This means that the files a worker saves to his or her work computer are not private, nor are actions on the computer, such as accessing the internet. Work emails and phone calls are also not private, and indeed these forms of communication are frequently monitored. Employers will usually notify workers of any monitoring, though.
Personal property is usually not subject to such actions, though. A worker’s purse or personal bag is generally considered private, although it is possible that it may be searched if something was stolen. However, regular end-of-day searches that are conducted without any legitimate reason are usually not legal and may be a violation of a person’s rights. Most employers are also prevented by the Employee Polygraph Protection Act from forcing their workers to submit to polygraph testing.
Privacy in the workplace is a complicated topic. Most people in Wisconsin value their personal privacy but also understand that the workplace is not necessarily a private place. However, that does not mean that their rights cannot be violated. If an employer violated employment law through unnecessary or wrong searches, it is possible to hold them accountable through the careful actions of a civil suit.