Workplaces are not new. They’ve been around forever, figuratively speaking. Yet, thanks to evolving technology, employees and bosses continue to find new controversies to settle. Twitter, e-mails, blogs, etc. They’ve all caused headaches and lawsuits. The latest kerfuffle has gone all the way to the Supreme Court, and it could change the way some workers think about workplace privacy.

In City of Ontario v. Quon, Jeff Quon, a police sergeant in Ontario, Calif., had the text messages on his company-provided cell phone audited by the city and claimed he had a right to privacy. A lower court agreed and said he had the right to file suit, but the Supreme Court ruled otherwise.

According to NPR:

A review of the transcripts revealed messages between Quon and his wife, Jerilyn, from whom he was estranged. He also exchanged intimate texts with his girlfriend, April Florio, another police department employee.

Internal affairs investigators pulled two months of transcripts and concluded that of 456 messages Quon sent or received during work hours in August 2002, no more than 57 were related to his job.

Ontario police officers had been put on notice that their e-mail messages and texts could be subject to oversight by department supervisors.

For an overview of the case, you can head over to ScotusWiki and read the details of the case. In a unanimous decision, the court decided, that Quon had no reasonable expectation of privacy in this particular case and that the city did not violate his constitutional rights. The court also made clear that it did not mean workers have no right to privacy with regard to workplace communications. In other words, this case isn’t quite as far reaching as it could have been. And since I’m no legal scholar, I won’t hypothesize about what it could mean for us beyond what the court ruled.

Still, the case is worth thinking about as an employee. If you have a company-provided pager (or cell phone as it probably is in most professions), should you expect that anything you write during the workday is private? Does that mentality extend to how you correspond via work e-mail? Do you think employers should be able to audit your correspondence if they want or only if it directly relates to an issue where your messages are pivotal to the outcome? Do you agree with the Supreme Court in this case?

Let us know what you think.

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