How to Protect Your Privacy at Work

Posted on Nov 28, 2018 by Gavoy Small

Privacy in the workplace has become a commonplace issue as we now rely heavily on the internet, at work and at home. Is it unreasonable to ask to not be watched at every turn? 

On the one hand, your employer has to be able to secure the company’s intellectual property and ensure employees are productive. On the other, balancing privacy and productivity is becoming increasingly important for workplaces and their employees.

So, who should get more protection for your privacy in the workplace? We’ll take a closer look at workplace privacy and what steps you can take to secure your data.

What is Workplace Privacy?

Workplace privacy deals with your privacy rights in the workplace. It explores the extent to which your employer can monitor you while at work. This includes the collection of data related to your communications and activities in the workplace. 

However, this may also include private communications in the workplace and communication on issues that do not fall in the scope of work. After all, an emergency might force us to discuss personal issues over company-issued devices – if your partner calls you from the emergency room, you’re not going to say “Hang on, wait so I can call you on my personal phone”… right?. 

Why do Employers Monitor Online Activities?

Does your employer have the right to see all your online activities when you’re at work? In some cases, yes – especially if you’re using a work-owned device.

An employer who deals with sensitive data will want to safeguard their business in any way possible. This may mean monitoring your device usage to ensure privacy and storage policies are maintained.

Your employer may also routinely scan emails and instant messages to identify any inappropriate language and cyberbullying in the workplace.

And you may find that your boss keeps tabs on your productivity level and general efficiency. This could include logging computer usage times, keystrokes, screenshots, emails, and whether you access social media or other non-work related websites. 

What Data Do Employers Have Access To?

When you use a company-assigned device, you can assume they can access all usage data. This includes: 

    ✔️ Full browsing history, including downloads & uploads
    ✔️Call logs
    ✔️Any files, including Images and documents

The best way around this is to always use your own device for personal things. But this may not work if you connect to your company’s Wi-Fi. By doing so, you may give your employer the same level of access – even on a personal device.

US vs. EU Workplace Privacy

You can always check what privacy you’re entitled to in the EU by visiting the official data protection site.

Various countries around the world have taken legal steps to give employees basic data protection rights, and while some have made good progress, the process overall isn’t as easy as initially thought. 

The EU made the process transparent by demanding employers tell you you’re being monitored. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and The European Convention on Human Rights both allow you to sue your employer if they don’t inform you of monitoring and get your consent. You also have the right to access data gathered by your employer. 

In the US, it’s normal for owners of devices to set the terms of use, so employee monitoring isn’t illegal. Certain laws protect financial and health information, but not emails, browsing history and social media usage.

The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) is the law closest to safeguarding your privacy. It covers all forms of digital communication, including emails. However, limitations exist, especially in the workplace. 

Since employers can monitor communications on work-owned devices, they may intercept and use this to make assessments and take steps to improve workflow. This could include monitoring productivity, blocking spam, or fighting intellectual property theft. 

Also, if you consent to monitoring, whether expressly or impliedly, your employer may keep track of your online activities. That’s why it’s important to always read your company policy and ask questions.

Do Some Employees Benefit From More Privacy?

Yes, some employees benefit more from more privacy. Depending on the nature of your job, you may require both physical and online privacy to maintain the confidentiality of your clients

In a medical business, for instance, a doctor will need to keep client information confidential to better serve their patients and abide by medical privacy laws. The owner of the medical practice may exercise their right to oversee the business by monitoring communications, but they can’t monitor or access patient records. Only the patient can authorize another person to view their records. 

How Can You Improve Your Privacy in the Workplace?

The first step is to take your privacy seriously. This means doing everything you can to make sure what you do in your private time and on your own device is protected. Here are a few things you can do to safeguard your privacy.

  1. Read Your Company’s Privacy Policy
Always Read the fine Print!

Ideally, the policy will tell you exactly what your company monitors. Note what express and implied consent for monitoring would include and exercise your right to choose whether or not your employer can monitor your activities. Don’t sign on to the policy unless you agree with its contents. 

  1. Use Separate Devices

Keep your work devices separate from your personal devices. Even if your company assigns you a unique computer and phone, never use it for personal research or activities. This is one of the best ways to maintain your privacy. 

  1. Don’t Visit Websites You Shouldn’t Be On

Avoid visiting sites not safe for work or clicking links you suspect will take you to websites you wouldn’t want to be caught looking at. 

If your workplace restricts social media for productivity reasons and you need to make a post on your break, use your personal device. It’s still not great if you’re using work WiFi, but it’s an improvement.

  1. Never Leave Your Computer Open

An unlocked computer is one of the easiest ways to expose your personal information. Log out or put it in sleep mode before you leave your workstation to keep your information safe from prying eyes. 

Co-workers might also use your unlocked devices to pull pranks on you, like using your account to tell everyone on Slack you’re buying drinks tonight… or that they’re all getting raises. Yikes.

  1. Use the Incognito Feature on Your Browser

The incognito mode won’t prevent your employer from tracking your activities, but it will ensure the browser doesn’t store your history, passwords, or cookies. Use incognito so you don’t have to remember to delete them.

  1. Create a Physical Barrier
Keep out the distractions and the spies!

Sometimes, security threats are physical. If possible, create a barrier between your space and others to prevent your colleagues from seeing your screen and keyboard. This will stop them from directly seeing your passwords and other sensitive data.

You can also reduce your screen brightness to limit how easily your screen is seen from a distance, use privacy filters, and turn your screen away from reflective surfaces.

  1. Use Different Passwords

Don’t use the same password for your personal and work accounts. This will protect both you and your employer – if one password is exposed the other won’t be faced with a possible data breach

  1. Use Two-Factor Authentication

So, let’s say you accidentally log in to your private email on your office computer. What do you do? 

Two-factor authentication (2FA) is an extra layer of protection you can use to protect your online accounts beyond passwords and usernames. This may be a pin code sent to your phone or biometric approval through an app. 

Your employer may know your password, but they won’t be able to access your accounts. It also gives you a chance to change your password. 

  1. Use a VPN

When you connect to your work network, you expose all your device data and online activities to your employer. This means they can see anything and everything you do – including search history, online habits, and even your passwords. Thankfully, you can prevent this with a VPN. 

A VPN changes your IP address and encrypts all your online activities, protecting your device whenever you connect to the internet. No one can access your data or see what you’re doing, whether they’re an employer or cybercriminal. 

Install PIA VPN on your personal device to improve your privacy in the workplace. We use top-level encryption to mask your data and we have a strict No Logs policy so nothing you do online is ever logged or stored. 

Protect Your Workplace Privacy

Workplace privacy will always be a contentious issue. Your employer needs to be able to monitor activities to ensure the profitability of their business and you need privacy to keep your work and personal life separate. 

There are many ways to keep your work and personal life separate, like using separate devices and never doing anything personal while at work. That’s not always possible though, so the safest way to ensure your privacy is with a VPN

Get PIA VPN to encrypt your connection and ensure your personal communication stays hidden. PIA’s strict No Logs policy means we never record or store your online.


What is workplace privacy?

This is the protection of your privacy rights in the workplace. It includes the rights and limitations to your online activities being accessed, systematically monitored, or used by your employer. 

Your employers can monitor all your online activity when you use their device or connect to their network with your own. In many jurisdictions, employers have to disclose monitoring and get your consent. 

If you’re being monitored at network level, using your personal device on your employer’s Wi-Fi may still expose your data. To prevent this from happening, you can rely on PIA’s premium VPN encryption to mask all the traffic leaving your device. 

Is privacy in the workplace important?

Privacy in the workplace is essential. It will make you feel safer, have a sense of autonomy, and improve productivity.

Understandably, employers don’t want their workers to waste valuable office hours with personal activities. However, you will trust your employers more if your privacy is respected. Use a VPN to secure your internet data if you must engage in personal communications in the workplace.

Can employers monitor personal communications?

Yes, they can. Though some jurisdictions have legal restrictions, the general consensus is that employers are allowed to monitor the use of devices they provide. 

In some instances, employers can also monitor any activity on their Wi-Fi. Hopefully all this will be declared upon being hired or outlined in the company policy so you can be aware. 

If you must use your personal device while at work, use PIA to stay safe on the Wi-Fi and keep all your activities private. 

Are invasions of privacy in the workplace common?

What constitutes an invasion of privacy differs from person to person, and from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. But when your boss can see everything you do, the idea of privacy is quickly eroded. However, privacy is possible if you take certain steps to encrypt your data. 

Install PIA to maintain your online privacy. We use military-grade encryption to keep your data for your eyes only. Send personal emails and messages without your employer intercepting them.