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Restaurant failed to protect employee privacy, complaint alleges

Imagine suffering through a debilitating illness that requires frequent doctor's appointments, medication, and time off from work. Now imagine having to share at least some of those details with your boss in order to justify the time off. While employers may require a note from your doctor in order to give you the time off you need, they have a duty to protect your privacy.

In a recent complaint filed against a San Antonio McDonald's, however, the restaurant’s managers are accused of failing to protect the privacy of its employees. In fact, one worker claims that five or six of her doctor's notes, which detailed her diagnoses, treatments, and medications, were pinned to a bulletin board in the back office for all of her co-workers to see.

According to an article published in GP Solo, a publication of the American Bar Association, employment disputes centered on privacy are typically examined on a case-by-case basis within the boundaries of the workplace. For example, considerations taken into account in determining whether an employer violated its employees’ privacy generally include the use of a shared office space, shared or exclusive use of space or technology, storage of personal items, privacy expectations, and existing privacy policies (or lack thereof). In the San Antonio McDonald's case, technology doesn't appear to be an issue as the notes where physically pinned to a bulletin board. The bulletin board's usage and accessibility within the office, however, will likely play a prominent role in the outcome of this case.

What about the Fourth Amendment? The Fourth Amendment doesn’t cover a private employer’s property; it is intended to guard against unreasonable searches by government agencies and authorities. This doesn't mean, however, that employers have the right to go through an employee's personal belongings or share confidential information inappropriately. Texas recognizes the common law claim of "intrusion on seclusion" which is a type of invasion of privacy claim that could be used in employment-related disputes focused on privacy issues.

Source: KENS5.com, "McDonald's worker says management displayed her medical information," Joe Conger, June 14, 2013

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