One of the most frequently asked questions is whether employers monitor employees. The simple answer to that question is yes. According to American Management Association and The ePolicy Institute, a majority of employers monitor employees.
Below are some of the ways an employer may monitor workplace activities.
1. Computers and Workstations
The law generally allows employers to monitor activities on workstations or workplace computers. That’s because they own the computer network and its terminals hence allowed to monitor activities. Thanks to technology, your employer can monitor almost every aspect of your workplace computer. There are several ways to do it, which include:
- Using computer software that enables the employer to view the employee’s computer screen or terminal.
- Keeping track of time spent away from the computer.
- Monitoring keystrokes an employee makes per hour.
While monitoring of computers is legal, employees may get some protection under certain circumstances. For instance, contracts under union may limit your employer’s right to keep track. Also, government employees may have some rights under the United States Constitution.
Do remember that most computer monitoring software allows your employer to keep track without your knowledge. However, some companies may notify you through memos, meetings, or employee handbooks.
2. Email and Instant Messaging
Employers who own an instant messaging system or email can check its content. Your employer can monitor information sent within the workstation and those received or sent from other companies or individuals. To avoid legal implications, you should always assume your employer sees all messages and emails. That’s because some employee’s privacy court cases have favored employers, which include:
- Town of Falmouth V.s Falmouth Firefighters Union
- Pillsbury V.s Smyth
In most cases, your employer can listen to your phone calls at your workplace. For instance, your employer can monitor your calls with customers for evaluation purposes. Also, Electronic Communications Privacy Act allows unannounced monitoring for business calls. However, California requires employers to notify you and the customer they are being monitored or recorded.
On the other hand, personal calls shouldn’t get monitored. In fact, the employer should stop listening to your call when he realizes it’s a personal call. Keep in mind employers can restrict the use of workplace phones to business-related issues.
4. Mobile Devices
Your employer may monitor an employer-provided mobile device. Employers may install monitoring apps that record your messages, location, or internet use. Some employers may also allow you to use your device instead of an additional device. Such cases are commonly known as bring your device (BYOD). They generally pose a challenge in balancing between the employee’s privacy and employer’s data security.
Such policies may appear in the employee manual, employment contract, or orientation materials. For these reasons, it’s critical that you carefully read the BYOD policy or engage employment lawyers before signing.
5. Audio and Video Recording
Video recording is the most common monitoring method in most workplaces. It mainly monitors security, employee activity, and deterring theft. Remember, federal laws do not restrict video monitoring even without your consent.
In some cases, the court has sided with the employees, especially for physical invasive. Such cases involved hidden cameras in bathrooms or locker rooms. Some states have restrictions on how, where, and why your employer may video monitor you. Additionally, labor unions may also negotiate video recording limitations.
Video cameras with audio recording abilities may be subject to audio recording laws. Also, federal laws do not prohibit audio recording as long as one party consents.
6. Location (GPS) Tracking
Employers can use Global Positioning Systems (GPS) to track any employer-owned vehicles. Although few courts have addressed such an issue, most have ruled in favor of the employer. They held that an employer can use GPS on company-owned vehicles without consulting the employee.
States such as Texas, Minnesota, and California have laws preventing your employer from using mobile tractors to track you. Keep in mind that these statutes don’t apply to company-owned equipment.
7. U.S. Postal Mail
Your employer may generally open your mails when delivered to you at the workplace. That’s because mails delivered at your workplace aren’t considered mail obstruction. The Domestic Mail Manual (DMM) provides that: Mails addressed to an individual at the organization’s address get delivered to the organization. That means your employer doesn’t violate the law if they open your mail.
8. Social Media
In this age of social media, many companies have policies limiting what you can post about the company. Some states prohibit an employer from disciplining you based on your off-duty social media activities unless they can damage the company. In most cases, social network posts about your employer can cause damage to the company.
The general rule in work ethics is to use work equipment responsibly. Avoid any non-work-related activities in your workplace, such as job searching or saving personal data. Maintain professionalism even when no one is watching. Also, avoid sharing your strong opinions about the employer on company devices and software.