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Topic Employees and

the Workplace

By the end of this topic, you should be able to: 1. 2. 3. Define employees right to privacy; Identify the moral grounds a company has to take prior to hiring of employees; and Identify instances leading to violations of privacy


Figure 9.1: Drug testing for job applicant Source: http://www.cartoonstock.com/newscartoons/ cartoonists/jlv/lowres/jlvn482l.jpg


During an interview, the interviewer may request the job applicant to take a drug test as shown in Figure 9.1. Why do you think a drug test is necessary? What is the rationale behind this request? Companies want to protect themselves, their employees and their customers from avoidable harm. As a result, they believe that they need to know about the personal history and habit of their employees to guard against fraud, theft of proprietary information or harmful acts that employees might do under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Does a company have the right, in its own interest, to this kind of information or is it an unwarranted intrusion on the employees privacy? This is an issue which we will explore in this topic.



Any company has the right to protect itself from fraud, loss of proprietary information and trade secrets, and from harm to its facilities, employees, customers or to the public it serves. Since employees can be a potential source of these harms, managers often need to investigate the personal history of their job applicants. Some companies use preemployment tests to get a reading on their employees level of honesty. Polygraph tests, for example, were used in the past by many companies as a preemployment screening device but the practice is now illegal. Figure 9.2 shows a man undergoing a polygraph tests, which is used to determine the level of honesty that an individual possesses.

Figure 9.2: Polygraph tests Source: http://www.akhbarassociates.com/newspi.html


Managers may also want to monitor or even attempt to restrict the private-life activities of those on the payroll to ensure that they do not pose a threat to the business. The questions are: (a) (b) How far can managers invade a prospective or current employees privacy in the interests of the enterprise? Does a companys right to protect itself always override an employees right to privacy?

Check with your Human Resource Manager. Find out the extent to which your employer can test his or her employees. Compare your findings with your coursemates. Then, summarise the findings by using a mind map.

Companies may install sophisticated devices such as closed-circuit television (CCTV) or computer software in order to monitor the movement of their employees in the office and in the computer network. Figure 9.3 shows the image taken by a closed-circuit television which enables the employer to monitor his or her employees movement.

Figure 9.3: The monitoring of employees movement through closed-circuit television Source: http://isafesoft.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/businesses1.jpg


Discuss the following questions. (a) (b) How far can employers invade a prospective or current employees privacy in the interests of the organisation? Does an organisations right to protect itself always override an employees right to privacy?

There are cases in Malaysia where employers are found to check on their employees social life through social networking sites such as Facebook.

Source: http://itblog.ws/category/social-networking/ Discuss the above statement in relation to the intrusion of employees right to privacy.



No company wants to be placed in jeopardy by employees who cannot perform their duties due to the influence of drugs or alcohol. Nowadays, due to the widespread abuse of alcohol and drugs, many employers fear they may unwittingly hire an addict or alcoholic. Consequently, testing for drug use is a pre-employment requirement in many businesses. The question is: do companies have a moral right to drug-test employees? The right not to have ones privacy invaded is not absolute in the sense that a person may never waive it. In the interest of showing a potential


employer that he or she is not a possible threat to the company, a job applicant may agree to being tested for drugs. Likewise, it seems evident that a company is morally justified in insisting on testing job applicants for drug use as a protective measure, especially where the safety of customers and other employers is at stake. The company requiring the tests, however, needs to ensure that: (a) (b) The tests are accurate; the applicant is permitted to provide evidence that he or she is taking drugs under a legitimate medical prescription. The results of the tests remain confidential and will be made known only to those who have a legitimate need to know.

If these precautions cannot be reasonably observed, then the company has no right to demand the drug tests. The following are two questions that are related to employees drug testing:


What about testing people already on the payroll? (i) (ii) That means training supervisors in proper techniques of recognising signs of abuse; It may also mean testing after the fact, if an employee has been involved in an accident that has harmed others or has caused extensive property damage; and

(iii) It is a small comfort to find out that an employee was high on drugs or drunk after he or she had caused a fatal airline, train or bus accident. That unhappy conclusion explains why employers sometimes resort to random testing of all employees in occupations where the risk of harm to people or property is high should employees make a mistake. (b) Is random testing of employees morally justified? The principle of probable cause seems applicable, meaning that testing for drug abuse is legitimate only if an employer has a valid suspicion that an employees work performance is being adversely affected by drug use. It is arguable that only two circumstances could justify any testing of employees: (i) (ii) Valid suspicion that a particular employee is on drugs; or Statistically valid evidence that the incidence of drug use among the suspected employees is significant.


It would be particularly applicable in jobs where the safety of other employees, customers or the general public would be threatened by impaired job performance. If random testing ensures satisfactory results, it seems that it is morally justified as long as all employees are equally subjected to it.

What are the factors that need to be taken into consideration before an organisation intends to conduct a drug test on its employees?



Have you ever encountered a situation where your employer, who is in anger and unable to control his or her emotion, scolds you loudly in front of your coworkers? As shown in Figure 9.4, it is probably not uncommon for bosses to fly into a rage at their subordinates.

Figure 9.4: An employer scolding an employee Source: http://www.inmagine.com/lilyoh-006/ptg00927587-photo

Bosses may scold their subordinates for a number of reasons, usually due to failures related to work. However, employees may even be threatened with the loss of their jobs for such failures as:


(a) (b) (c) (d)

Not agreeing to falsify the financial statements, or Refusing sexual advances, or Not trying to get out of jury duty, or Refusing to commit deception on behalf of a union or a company

Such instances involve a clear violation of privacy. It is certainly necessary to let an employee know that he is not performing satisfactorily. However, that is not something other employees or managers, who are not in the persons direct line of supervision or who will not likely ever supervise that person, have a right to know. Everyone is entitled to his good public reputation. Finally, using threats to try to force employees to violate the law is a kind of invasion of privacy. It intrudes into the persons realm of conscience and puts him in legal jeopardy. For the natural law moralist or any rights-based moralist, these instances are evidence of employee abuse, of violations of human dignity and respect for persons. Therefore they are considered as immoral. It is unlikely that a utilitarian moralist would ever argue that these practices are morally justified and would produce good results on the whole. As for cultural relativist, it is unlikely that societal customs anywhere in the world would accept this kind of treatment at the workplace.

What are the aspects that might be regarded as an intrusion to the employees privacy?

To reinforce your understanding, answer the following questions.

1. 2. 3. In your own words, describe your understanding of employees right to privacy. As a personnel manager of a company, what would be your preparation prior to hiring prospective employees? Under what circumstances is random drug-testing of employees morally justified?


An employee has the right to privacy and no one, not even the employer, has the right to intrude into the employees privacy. Companies want to protect themselves, their employees and their customers from avoidable harm. Companies need to know the personal details such as the history and habit of their employees in order to guard against fraud, theft and harmful acts that employees might do. Random testing for substance abuse may be morally justified if there is valid suspicion and strong evidence that a significant number of employees may be abusing alcohol or using illegal drugs. Scolding employees in public for poor work performance is a violation of their privacy. Everyone has the right to his public reputation, and only those who need to know about a persons performance should hear about it. Threatening a person for refusing to do something immoral or illegal invades a persons conscience or puts him into legal trouble and is a violation of privacy. Natural law moralists would regard any abuse of an employee as morally wrong, while utilitarian moralists would find it justified only in extreme circumstances where the overall good demands it. Cultural relativists would have to determine whether the particular community in which the abuse occurs would tolerate it.

Drug test Employee abuse Employee privacy

Polygraph tests Random testing Substance abuse