Find out How Your Boss Might Be Watching You at Work

older man peering around a cubicle representing the concept of being watched at work.

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More companies are monitoring their employees electronically. Active monitoring of employees has risen recently from 35% to 80%. Why? What can you do about it?

"Privacy in today's workplace is largely illusory. In this era of open space cubicles, shared desk space, networked computers, and teleworkers, it is hard to realistically hold onto a belief in private space," said Ellen Bayer, AMA's human resources practice leader.

Why Companies Monitor Employees

The reasons companies monitor employee activities are valid business reasons, not just a desire to snoop. The AMA listed (in alphabetical order) five reasons given by survey companies as to why they monitor their employees.

  • Legal Compliance. In regulated industries, taping telemarketing activities gives both the company and the consumer some degree of legal protection. Also, electronic recording and storage may be considered part of a company's "due diligence" in keeping adequate records and files.
  • Legal Liability. Employees who are unwittingly exposed to offensive graphic material on colleagues' computer screens may charge a hostile workplace environment.
  • Performance Review. Customer service and consumer relations personnel are frequently taped as they field calls, and tapes are reviewed with supervisors to evaluate and improve job performance.
  • Productivity Measures. Net-surfing, personal use of office e-mail, and/or dialing up 900 numbers expend time and assets on non-business related activities.
  • Security Concerns. Protecting the value of proprietary corporate information is a primary concern in an age when e-mail and internet connections continue to expand.

"Work is carried out on equipment belonging to employers who have a legal right to the work product of the employees using it", Bayer said. It should be noted that the survey revealed that "90% of the companies engaging in any of these practices inform their employees that they're doing so." Also, most of the monitoring is "performed on a spot-check basis rather than an ongoing 24-hour basis."

Your Rights As an Employee

As an employee, you have very few rights that protect against such monitoring. According to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse "New technologies make it possible for employers to monitor many aspects of their employees' jobs, especially on telephones, computer terminals, through electronic and voice mail, and when employees are using the Internet. Such monitoring is virtually unregulated.

Therefore, unless company policy specifically states otherwise (and even this is not assured), your employer may listen, watch and read most of your workplace communications." Their Fact Sheet 7: Workplace Privacy has a very good summary FAQ about employee rights, or lack thereof, with respect to phone calls, computers, email, and voice mail.

Obligation of Managers to Monitor

Managers have an obligation to their company to monitor the activities of their employees to ensure compliance with applicable laws and policies. They monitor their behavior, their adherence to the dress code, the way they greet customers. The need to monitor their electronic activities is equally as great and the reasons are the same.

They should be sure to let employees know that they are being monitored electronically, in addition to letting them know what is being monitored and why what is acceptable and what is not. The easiest way is to develop and publish the company's policies with regard to the use of computers, the Internet, email, and voice mail. Managers should monitor for compliance and discipline as they would for any other company policy.