Employers have the right to monitor their employees’ actions while in a South Carolina workplace, although they must balance that right to manage against an employee’s right to privacy. Employers in South Carolina must navigate state and federal law while monitoring their employees’ activities while on the job and face even larger legal restrictions for monitoring employees’ activities outside of the workplace or personal business, with employers’ right to spy on employees dwindling when business issues aren’t at hand.
Reasonable Expectation of Privacy
South Carolina common-law standards established by prior state and municipal court decisions provide privacy protections to employees in situations where they should reasonably expect privacy from their employer. Common-law privacy standards cover situations in which employees’ belongings were searched, personal cell phones’ contents were examined or email communication in non-corporate-provided email accounts were accessed. Employers may solicit consent forms from employees to provide permission to listen to private conversations, monitor private email transmissions made over a corporate computer network and search personal belongings. When an employer receives prior consent to such actions, employees waive common-law privacy protections in the workplace.
Employers may monitor – listen in on – employees’ calls if they’re business related and the monitoring is part of the ordinary course of business. The federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 and South Carolina Laws Title 17, Chapter 30, prohibit employers from monitoring their employees’ personal calls; and managers listening in on telephone conversations should stop monitoring the call when they determine the call isn’t business related. Employees who sign a consent form that allows employers to monitor telephone communication waive the right to personal-call privacy in the workplace.
South Carolina Code of Laws Title 17, Section 30 -- Interception of Wire, Electronic or Oral Communication -- bans the interception of wire and oral communications and prohibits employers, or any other third party, from listening to or recording a conversation in which they are not a party. This includes monitoring employee conversations in work areas, break rooms or other situations where the employer isn’t a part of the conversation and interception of the conversation doesn’t need to be recorded – merely intercepting the content of a conversation may violate South Carolina law. Only one party in a conversation needs to consent to audio surveillance to make it legal in South Carolina.
The only South Carolina statute that addresses privacy protections against video monitoring is South Carolina Code of Laws Title 16, Chapter 17, Section16-17-470, commonly known as the peeping tom provision, although it only provides protection to people on their own property, and doesn't apply in workplace situations. Because of this, employers may use video recording devices to monitor the activities of their workers in the workplace circumstances that don't violate common-law provisions of privacy. The may not monitor actions in an area where an employee has a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as in a locker room or a bathroom. Visible cameras mounted in public spaces and work areas that are monitored by a business owner are almost always permissible, and in most cases, hidden cameras that monitor publicly accessible areas are legal. Title 17, Section 30, still applies, however, barring eavesdropping, so employers’ cameras must only monitor and record video.
Wilhelm Schnotz has worked as a freelance writer since 1998, covering arts and entertainment, culture and financial stories for a variety of consumer publications. His work has appeared in dozens of print titles, including "TV Guide" and "The Dallas Observer." Schnotz holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Colorado State University.