Can I sue my employer for invasion of privacy for embarrassment caused at work?

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Can I sue my employer for invasion of privacy for embarrassment caused at work?

I have been working in sales at a call center for over 3 years. Everyday my superiors gather in a room at a random time during the day and blind monitor calls taken by employees. At the end of the day one of them send a mass email to everyone letting them know who they listened to and how well or how poor their perception was of the call. Obviously some of the comments made are very embarrassing for some of the employees. What laws are there in place to protect employees for such embarrassment?

Asked on August 22, 2010 under Employment Labor Law, South Dakota

Answers:

M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

Unfortunately no.  The expectation of privacy in the workplace is rather limited.  Employers monitoring their employees is commonplace.  Unless this behavior violates a stated company policy, employment contract, or even a union agreement of some kind, it is legal.  The fact is that most employment relationships are "at will".  This means that an employer can dictate terms and conditions of employment basically as they see fit.  In turn, an employer has the "choice" of quitting.  While this practice appears somewhat unprofessional and at times can be embarrassing for an employee, it does not violate the law.

Note:  You could try and sue for defamation but that is notoriously difficult to prove. 

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

The bad news, is there is NO law protecting employees from embarrassment generally. Indeed, there are no laws protecting anyone from embarrassment as a general matter.

However, the good news is, IF you are being defamed, you may have a cause of action. Defamation is the public (e.g. mass email) making of a false statement of fact which damages someone's reputation. The key is that it must be a false factual statement. So a true factual statement, even if hurtful, is not defamation. For example, if you failed to close 13 of 20 sales calls one day, and the email says that, that is not defamation. Saying you closed no calls, however, may be.

Also, opinions are not defamation. So if the email says, "John/Jane Doe is the worst telesales rep I've ever worked with," that's an opinion and not actionable. If it says "John/Jane Doe is on drugs, since that is the only possible explanation for his/her performance," that may be actionable, since that includes a factual assertion.


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