These days, it seems that more people are working from home than ever before. National security workers, both federal employees and contractors, aren’t excluded from the phenomenon despite laws prohibiting the storage of classified information at home. That’s because most security clearance holders can perform a significant portion of their job duties without the need to access classified information, allowing for at least part-time remote work arrangements.
Teleworking is undeniably an incredible convenience and a blessing for those who might otherwise be facing childcare dilemmas, horrendous commutes, or similar circumstances. But when the lines between home and office are blurred, it sometimes results in unforeseen consequences.
Work or Personal Use With a Laptop?
Take, for example, the laptop computer. When sitting on a desk in the workplace, most people would compartmentalize it as a “work computer” and treat it accordingly. When sitting on a couch or kitchen table at home; however, a lot of otherwise savvy people suddenly begin utilizing it for activities of a personal nature. If those activities violate the employer’s acceptable use policies and/or create a security risk, the fact that the computer was being used for telework is legally irrelevant.
Privacy Expectations for Company-Owned Laptops
No matter where a piece of technology is physically located, if its owned by an employer the employee-user has no expectation of privacy when engaged in activity on it. Courts have consistently held that employers are entitled to search employee emails, monitor employee browsing history, and even log employee key-strokes – all without informing the employee. Anyone using an employer-owned computer at home, or any other employer-owned technology for that matter, should always assume that their activities are being closely tracked and comport themselves accordingly.
Can My Employer Spy on me with The Work Owned Laptop?
There is, however, a line that even employers likely cannot cross: using technology-integrated cameras or voice-recording devices (e.g. webcams) to surreptitiously view or record employee activity in the home. Any employer seeking to view or record employee activity remotely through such technology would undoubtedly be required to notify the employee first of the proposed monitoring in order to avoid violating both civil and criminal invasion of privacy laws.
Label and Protect to Be Safe
It is probably safe to say that most employers would never dream of doing such a thing. But there is always an exception to the rule. Just because an employer can’t legally do something doesn’t mean that they won’t – or, for that matter, that a rogue IT employee won’t decide to engage in some self-help. As I’ve written about previously, any employee concerned about such eavesdropping should invest in the nominal cost of a webcam cover or similar protection. More broadly, any employee engaged in full-time or part-time telework would be wise to follow the government’s example of prominently labeling all technology as either “CLASSIFIED” or “UNCLASSIFIED”. Clearly visible “WORK” and “PERSONAL” labels might just be the reminder needed to avoid blurring those lines.
This article is intended as general information only and should not be construed as legal advice. Consult an attorney regarding your specific situation.