Earlier this month, New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed into a law a bill that will require New York private sector employers to provide written notice to employees before engaging in electronic monitoring of their activities in the workplace. Civil Rights (CVR) Chapter 6, Article 5, Section 52-C*2 will take effect six months after enactment, i.e. May 7th, 2022.

Pursuant to the new New York law, electronic monitoring in the workplace includes monitoring of employees’ telephone conversations or transmissions, electronic mail or transmissions, or internet access or usage of or by an employee by any electronic device or system, including but not limited to the use of a computer, telephone, wire, radio, or electromagnetic, photoelectronic or photo-optical systems. Prior written notice of the electronic monitoring must be issued at the time of hiring and must be acknowledged by the employee in writing or electronically. In addition, the notice must be posted in a conspicuous place readily available for viewing by employees.

It is important to note that under the new law, a private right of action for employees that are impacted by the law is not available. The New York attorney general has exclusive enforcement authority. Failure to comply with the law’s notice requirements may subject the employer to a civil penalty of $500 for the first offense, $1000 for the second offense, and $3000 for the third and each subsequent offense.

Employer monitoring requirements of this kind are not exclusive to New York. In Connecticut, for example, both private and public sector employers are required to notify employees prior to electronic monitoring, with similar penalties for failure to comply. Likewise, in Delaware, an employer is not permitted to monitor or intercept an employee’s telephone conversations, email or internet usage without prior notice in writing or alternatively notification, day of, each time the employee accesses the employer-provided email or Internet access services.

Excessive, clumsy, or improper employee monitoring can cause significant morale problems and, worse, create potential legal liability for privacy-related violations of statutory and common law protections, as evidenced by the New York law and others of its kind. Advancements in technology have made it easier to monitor remote employees, and by extension easier to violate the law for employers that are not careful.

When organizations decide to engage in any level of surveillance or search of employees, they should consider what their employees’ expectations are concerning privacy. Whether in a jurisdiction that requires prior notice of employee monitoring or not, in general, it is best practice to communicate to employees a well-drafted acceptable use and electronic communication policy that informs them what to expect when using the organization’s systems, whether in the workplace or when working remotely. This includes addressing employees’ expectations of privacy, as well as making clear the information systems and activities that are subject to the policy.

COVID-19 changed the way many organizations operate, and monitoring and surveillance have become increasingly important, particularly for employers that do not share the same physical workspace with their employees. When employers implement new monitoring and surveillance tools, they need to plan carefully, have the right team in place, review policies and applicable state and federal law, and be prepared to address problems when they arise.