Employee Privacy: Washington
Federal law and guidance on this subject should be reviewed together with this section.
Author: Ina R. Silvergleid
- Public sector employees have greater privacy protections than private sector employees because the Washington Constitution recognizes a right of privacy. Public employers must show they have a compelling governmental interest to conduct a search of an employee. See Monitoring and Protecting Employee Privacy.
- Monitoring employee telephone and email communications requires the consent of all parties to the communication unless one of several statutory exceptions applies. See Monitoring and Protecting Employee Privacy.
- Washington regulates the extent to which an employer can inquire into a job applicant's background (i.e., criminal history, driving history, consumer credit history). See Application and Interview Inquiries.
- Washington does not regulate drug and alcohol testing in the private sector. Public sector employers must be able to show they have a compelling governmental interest in order to conduct such testing of job applicants and employees. See Testing of Employees and Applicants.
- Employees may review their personnel files at least once a year. A former employee may request access to his or her personnel file up to two years after leaving the job. See Recording and Safeguarding Employee Records and Confidential Information.
- Employers must notify an employee if the employee's personal information may have been the subject of a security breach. See Recording and Safeguarding Employee Records and Confidential Information.
- Employers are required to take reasonable steps to destroy records in their possession containing employee personal information or face potential civil action for statutory or actual damages, reasonable cost and attorneys' fees. See Recording and Safeguarding Employee Records and Confidential Information.
- Employers who seek to use GPS to monitor employees should do so with employee knowledge. In the public sector, it may also be prudent for employer to obtain employee consent. See Types of Workplace Monitoring.
- Washington law prohibits employers from requesting or requiring that employees and applicants provide social media passwords and access information. See Social Media Privacy Protection.
- Localities including Seattle, Spokane have requirements pertaining to employee privacy. See Local Requirements.