In October 2001, the City of Ontario, Calif., police department bought two-way pagers for members of its SWAT team. The idea was that the pagers would help officers coordinate their response to emergencies. Based on the understanding that use of the pagers would be incidental, the department arranged a wireless plan that covered a limited number of messages each month.
Soon, Sgt. Jeff Quon and others in the department exceeded their monthly allotment. Quon's superior, Lt. Steven Duke, told Quon and others who went over the limit that if they reimbursed the city for any overages, their use of the pagers wouldn't be audited.
Search with Purpose
The Supreme Court's analysis had two prongs--first, whether the employee has a reasonable expectation of privacy, and second, whether the employer's search was reasonable and narrowly tailored to a justifiable purpose.
"Policies need to be revised and updated to reflect today's technologies--texting, blogging, use of social networking sites," says Fisher & Phillips Partner Tamara Devitt. "Make it clear where the employer is going to draw the line."
Experts advise that electronic-monitoring policies explicitly advise employees that not only will their activities be monitored, but also that anything they access at work will also be stored and subject to search.