If you work from home, you may already know the rules on your employer recording work calls or meetings for training or safety purposes. But most laptops have speakers, microphones, and webcam capabilities that are always present.
It can make you start to wonder: Is my work listening to everything I do at home?
The answer to this question may depend on the technical qualities of your laptop (see more below). But the answer is no – nothing gives your workplace the right to record in-person interactions that may occur in your home. This is true for any personal communications, from conversations with a spouse or child to a call on a personal phone while sitting at your work desk, to listening to music on your cellphone or home speakers while working.
Your employer does not have the right to “bug" your home, eavesdrop, or spy on you through a work computer or work phone. You have federal rights to privacy through the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), and your work must legally ask for your consent to monitor your work calls or computer use while working.
However, anything personal you choose to do with work equipment waives your rights to privacy.
Anything you do on your work computer can be monitored or recorded by your employer. This includes the websites you browse, things you write in personal emails or chat, or when you use a work phone or Skype-type service to make a personal call.
The truth is, you have few rights or recourse if your employer decides to take action against you for something done on a work computer, such as having a phone conversation about illegal activity or browsing inappropriate websites.
It is essential to be aware that doing anything personal on your work computer will generally leave you in the wrong – not your employer.
To be safe, never do anything personal on your work computer or work phone. Hang up or disengage if anyone tries to handle personal affairs with you through your work equipment. And double check that you did hang up a work call before having a personal conversation at home.
Learning about your computer's functionality may help put your mind at ease. Many laptops these days have “kill switches" that turn off the camera and microphone when not in use. Many also have mute buttons for the microphone or camera.
Your computer generally cannot use the microphone or camera when it is closed or turned off, though you should read up on the exact features to be sure.
First, read up about your employer's equipment use and recording policies in your employee manual. It is also a good idea to check your state's laws on employee protections and privacy acts.
If you suspect your employer heard a conversation that was not on a work phone or work computer recording program, you may have the right to take legal action. This is also true if your employer intends to discipline you for something they could not have learned from your work computer use.
These accusations are serious, and an attorney can stand by you to act. Contact an attorney with experience in employee and privacy laws for your state to get a detailed idea about the steps you can take.
Note: Keep in mind your employer can investigate your public profiles on Facebook or other sites and learn information, like lying about being sick at home while going to a concert or working from “home" in a different state without their permission. Public information can always be used against you.