“Privacy in the workplace is one of the more troubling personal and professional issues of our time. But privacy cannot be adequately addressed without considering a basic foundation of ethics” (Hartman n.d). We are unable to reach a meaningful normative conclusion about workplace privacy rights and obligations without an understanding of the fundamental and commons of the ethical basis of justice and also a thorough understanding of individual and organizational concerns and motivations
A person’s individual privacy is one that is of utmost consideration within society and the workplace, many would consider it a high priority as a level of importance for one to be endowed upon and respected. There are many arguments which either agree or disagree with the notion that an individual’s privacy is more important than any other consideration within the workplace, but first we must explore some views of an individual’s privacy and why it is of primary consideration.
Definition of Privacy
“Right to privacy is one of the few basic rights that at the same time can and cannot be described in few words. Right to privacy is the individual’s right to have a private and domestic life that no one could track or get involved in without the consent of the individual.” (Bagdanskis, 2012, p698)
Another fundamental view is provided by Ruth Gavison, who claims that interests in privacy are related to concerns over accessibility to others, that is, what others know about us, the extent to which they have physical access to us, and the extent to which we are the subject of the attention of others. “Thus the concept of privacy is best understood as a concern for limited accessibility and one has perfect privacy when one is completely inaccessible to others.”
Privacy can be gained in three independent but interrelated ways:
* Secrecy-when no one has information about one
* Anonymity-when no one pays attention to one;
* Solitude-when no one has physical access to one
It can then be split into 4 main “elements”:
* Informational privacy- (the right to control the information associated with you) in labor law it can be described as knowing where the information gathered about you by the employer is being used;
* Physical privacy – (bodily integrity – no one can perform medical or scientific experiments without the consent of the subject);
* Communicational privacy- (conversation over telephone, e-mail and other communications). In labor law perspective it means that right to communicate with others not associated with business relations must be respected; * Territorial privacy- (personal integrity of the housing and private territory)
(Bagdanskis, 2012, p699)
Ethical issues arise from the gathering of information, assessing its accuracy, correcting and disclosing it as well as the issues that are related to the substance of the information itself, specifically in connection with privacy. Simply knowing that someone has personal information about yourself can create a feeling of violation and invasiveness, there may be items of personal information that we simply do not want others to know regardless of the fact that they would or would not do something with said information.
Theories for and against
Utilitarianism or the Greatest Happiness Principle holds that “actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness” (Beauchamp, 2001, p.106) The happiness that is intended is pleasure and the absence of pain, unhappiness would then be pain and the privation of pleasure. This supports the importance of an individual’s privacy in the workplace as the most significant consideration as an individual may attain pleasure from the fact that they have an access and privilege towards their sense of privacy, by not having said privacy then the individual would then suffer a deprivation of pleasure. This in turn would then be held as wrong according to utilitarianism.
“Within the realm of work, surveillance can be carried out with a scrutiny and continuity that is most often not possible in public places and it can provide the observer with detailed person-specific data.” (Elin, 2009, p 201) An employer may see that the gathering of information about the personnel within the boundaries of supervision in which they are responsible for a higher consideration than the consideration of an individual’s privacy. Workplace safety may be put in a higher regard by having information and surveillance about the happenings within the workplace, this is turn would then produce an outcome that may detract from the pleasure of one’s self enjoyment of privacy but bring about a greater good as a result.
On the other hand, employees want to be treated as free, equal, capable and rational individuals who have the ability to make their own decisions about their lives and the way it will unfold. They are interested in aiding their own personal development and valued performance by “conducting some personal business at the office, being free from monitoring for performance reasons and in being free from monitoring for privacy reasons” (Elin, 2009, pg201) Workers are likely to expect aspects of their lives that are conventionally regarded as privacy sensitive or legally protected to be respected in all three relations. That is, what is considered private in society at large is most often so in the context of work as well. Then, “certain characteristics of work and the workspace are likely to reinforce the importance of privacy.” (Elin, 2009 p204) Individuals who normally do not care much about privacy are likely to do so in the particular context of work
Kant’s point of view is that we “treat humanity in your own person or in the person of any other never simply as a means but always at the same time as an end,”(Singer, 1946, p178) it demands less directly that we “act in ways of respect, so leave intact, other’s capacities to act”.(Singer, 1946, p178) A supporter of individual autonomy would take the view that we “have a fundamental moral obligation to respect autonomous agents by duly recognizing their considered value judgments and outlooks.”(Beauchamp, 2001, p163) From this we are able to deduce that to leave one to have their freedom to act is precisely the backbone of one’s privacy, the freedom to do what one would want, without others knowing or intervention, to have this right respected by others be it employees or employers.
Although employees are granted the freedom of thought, in the area of work, the chances of withdrawing from the observation is often most limited, the possibility of being seen and measured at all times is likely to have an effect on the way in which an individual would act or express themselves. Some conceiving arguments have argued that “given the effect of which the relation of the observer is crucial for the way in which those subjected to observation behave” (Elin, 2009, p208) then in the area of work, employees who are typically dependent on the approval of their employer may then due to constantly subject to observation develop ways of acting that are not “naturally” theirs.
“Employees’ needs for protection of communication and correspondence are articulated in debates on employers’ usage of e-mail interception and listening-in device in call-centers” (Elin, 2009, p204) Due to the long term and often close interactions with colleagues, employees often are likely to expect their co-workers to withdraw or to avert their attention as far as possible rather than to overhear a phone call or to flip through documents that were left in the printer, there a significant difference between withdrawing one’s attention.
Workers may be asked to undergo screening for “evidence of certain activities or predilections” (Elin, 2009, p204) these are typically in the form of drug tests, genetic screening and physiological tests. An employers’ access towards non-public information such as physical and mental capacities that may be considered sensitive for the individual for many different reason is likely to “frustrate employees’ wish to remain ignorant of their genetic dispositions”(Elin, 2009, p204)
As an employee, a person, an individual has a right to a private life and expects that this right not to be violated, not even in their workplace. However there are a number of reasons and conditions in which force employers to undertake the monitoring and control of the employees in their workplace. The main reasons are: * Ensuring employee’s working order and discipline
* Improving employee productivity and efficiency
* Saving employers financial resources
* Preservation of employers good reputation
* Meeting the computer system security and performance needs (Bagdanskis, 2012, p679)
The right to privacy must be balanced with other rights and legitimate interest, particularly with the employer’s right to operate efficiently and to a certain degree, protect themselves from liability or damage which may result in the employees actions. According to act utilitarianism, “if the consequences of breaking the promise are better than keeping it, then that is what is ought to be done.” (MacKinnon, 2004, p.54) the overall consequences that are achieved if more beneficial, then it should be the action which needs to be taken.
So according to act utilitarianism, if having an individual’s privacy as a strong consideration would then bring out the best outcome such as an increase in performance or better work relations within the environment then that is what needs to be done. However if an individual’s privacy being a high consideration within the workplace would result in a decrease in the standard of work safety, efficiency and productivity which would also mean that it does not result in the best outcome possible then the individual’s privacy concern should not be taken as the highest consideration.
This is also reflected within teleological theories as it states that “the basic or ultimate criterion or standard of what is morally right, wrong, obligatory, etc,. is the nonmoral value which is brought into being”(Frankena, 1973, p.14) In other words it is more concerned with the fact that “an act ought to be done if and only if it or the rule under it which falls produces, will probably produce, or is intended to produce a greater balance of good over evil than any available alternatives”(Frankena, 1973, p.14)
Deontological theories hold that there are absolute rights or duties since they claim there are some rights or duties that we must violate even if doing so would bring out the best overall consequences, “generally speaking, a deontological view denies that the good, or what is of value, takes priority over the right of duty”(Borchet, 1999, p.194). This also agrees with the fact that actions performed need to be a result of the best overall consequences.
In conclusion, through the exploration of many ethical theories ranging from utilitarianism to Kant’s theory and also having an understanding of what exactly is an individual’s privacy and why it should be of major consideration within the workplace. An individual’s privacy should take primary consideration as it is something very personal and is also a right that everyone is entitled to, however in certain situations where factors such as the safety of people are in concern or when it would produce a better overall result then the consideration of an individual’s privacy may then become of a lesser consideration.
Bagdanskis, T(2012) Workplace Privacy: Different views and arising issues. 19(2) 697-713
Beauchamp, T(2001). Philosophical Ethics: An Introduction to Moral Philosophy: The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Borchert, D.M(1999) Philosophy and Ethics. Macmillan Library Reference USA
Elin, P(2009) Privacy Expectations at Work – What is reasonable and Why? 12(2) 201-215
Frankena, W.K(1973) Ethics: Second Edition. Prentice Hall
Hartman, L(n.d) Technology and Ethics: Privacy in the Workplace. Retrieved from http://www.nd.edu/~rbarger/privacyintheworkplace.html
MacKinnon, B(2004) Ethics: Theory and Contemporary Issues. Fourth Edition. Thomson Learning Inc.
Singer, P(1946) A Companion to Ethics: Biddles Ltd