The Protection of Privacy in the Workplace: A Comparative Study

Gondwe, Mimmy (2011-12)

Thesis (LLD )--Stellenbosch University, 2011.

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: The importance of privacy lies in the fact that it represents the very idea of human dignity or the preservation of the ‘inner sanctum’. Not surprisingly, however, operational concerns of employers and technological developments combine continuously to challenge the preservation of privacy in the workplace. Employees the world over are exposed to numerous privacy invasive measures, including drug testing, psychological testing, polygraph testing, genetic testing, psychological testing, electronic monitoring and background checks. Hence, the issue at the heart of this dissertation is to determine to what extent privacy is protected in the South African workplace given advancements in technology and the implications (if any) for the right to privacy as such. A secondary aim of the dissertation is to attempt to provide a realistic balance between the privacy concerns of employees and the operational needs of employers in this technological age. As such the main focus of dissertation falls within the sphere of employment law. In order to provide an answer to the research issue discussed above, the dissertation addresses five ancillary or interrelated issues. First, the broad historical development of the legal protection of privacy is traced and examined. Second, a workable definition of privacy is identified with reference to academic debate and comparative legislative and judicial developments. Third, those policies and practices, which would typically threaten privacy in the employment sphere are identified and briefly discussed. Fourth, a detailed evaluation of the tension between privacy and a number of selected policies and practices in selected countries is provided. More specifically, the dissertation considers how these policies and practices challenge privacy, the rationale for their existence and, if applicable, how these policies and practices – if necessary through appropriate regulation – may be accommodated while simultaneously accommodating both privacy and the legitimate concerns of employers. The selection of these practices and policies is guided by two considerations. At the first level the emphasis is on those challenges to privacy, which can be traced back to technological developments and which, as such, foster new and unique demands to the accommodation of privacy in the workplace. The secondary emphasis is on those policies, which are representative of the fundamental challenges created by new technologies to privacy. To effectively address the above issues the dissertation uses the traditional legal methodology associated with comparative legal research, which includes a literature review of applicable law and legal frame work and a review of relevant case law and a comparative study of selected foreign jurisdictions.


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