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Employee Monitoring is the act of employers surveying employee activity through different surveillance methods. Organizations engage in employee monitoring for different reasons such as to track performance, to avoid legal liability, to protect trade secrets, and to address other security concerns. This practice may impact employee satisfaction due to its impact on the privacy of the employees. Among organizations, the extent and methods of employee monitoring differ.
Due to the use of company computers, telephones, workspaces, and software, employers can have access to the daily activities of their employees. These devices are used to monitor the organizations' employees. Common methods of monitoring include software monitoring, telephone tapping, video surveillance, email monitoring, and location monitoring.
Software monitoring can occur if employees use company computers for their work, companies often utilize employee monitoring software that allows them to track what their employees are doing on the computers. Such as, what the speed of typing is, what mistakes are made, what applications were used, and what specific keys were pressed.
Telephone tapping can be used to recover employees' phone call details and conversations. These can be recorded during monitoring. The number of calls, the duration of each call, and the idle time between calls, can all go into an automatic log for analysis by the company.
Video surveillance can provide video feed of employee activities that are passed through to a central location where they are monitored live by another person. These can be recorded and stored for future reference which some believe is the most accurate way to monitor employees. "This is a benefit because it provides an unbiased method of performance evaluation and prevents the interference of a manager's feelings in an employee's review (Mishra and Crampton, 1998)." Management can review the performance of an employee by checking the surveillance to detect and potentially prevent problems.
Email monitoring gives employers the ability to look at email messages sent or received by their employees. Emails can be viewed and recovered even if they had been previously deleted. In the United States, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act provides some privacy protections regarding monitoring of employees' email messages and other electronic communications. See Electronic Communications Privacy Act#Employee privacy.
Location monitoring can occur and be used for employees that do not work in a static location. Supervisors may choose to track their location. Common examples of companies that use location monitoring are delivery and transportation industries. In some of these cases, the employee monitoring is incidental as the location is tracked for other purposes, that can help improve customer satisfaction. Employees' phone call details and conversations can be recorded during monitoring. The number of calls, the duration of each call, and the idle time between calls, can all go into an automatic log for analysis by the company.
Key logging, or keystroke logging, is a process that records the keys a user is typing on the keyboard in order. These programs can also capture screenshots when triggered by predefined keywords. Some see it as violating workplace privacy and it's also notorious for being used with malicious intent. Loggers collect and store passwords, bank account information, private messages, credit card numbers, PIN numbers, and usernames.
Employee monitoring often is in conflict with employees' privacy. Monitoring collects work-related activities, but it can also collect employee's personal information that is not linked to their work. Monitoring in the workplace may put employers and employees at odds because both sides are trying to protect personal interests. Employees want to maintain their privacy while employers want to ensure company resources aren't misused. In any case, companies can maintain ethical monitoring policies by avoiding indiscriminate monitoring of employees' activities. The employee needs to understand what is expected of them while the employer needs to establish that rule.
With employee monitoring, there are many guidelines that one must follow and put in place to protect the company and the individual. Some following cases are ones that have shaped the certain rules and regulations that are in effect today. For instance, in Canada, it is illegal to perform invasive monitoring, such as reading an employee's emails, unless it can be shown that it is a necessary precaution and there are no other alternatives.  In Maryland, everyone in the conversation must give consent before the conversation can be recorded (especially during telephone calls). The state of California requires that the monitored conversations have a beep at certain intervals or there must be a message informing the caller that the conversations may be recorded. However, this does not inform the company representative which calls are being recorded. Other states, including Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Colorado and New Jersey have laws relating to when a conversation can be recorded. "Lawyers generally advise that one way for businesses to avoid liability for monitoring employees’ online activities is to take all necessary steps to eliminate any reasonable expectation of privacy that employees may have concerning their use of company email and other communications systems." Businesses makes employee monitoring a known tool that supervisors use to avoid any potential legal issues that may arise. They will announce this during new hire orientation, in a staff meeting, or even in a workplace contract that employees sign either at the time of hire or after a form of misconduct.
Businesses use employee monitoring for various reasons. The follow is a list that includes, but is not limited to:
- Find needed business information when the employee is not available.
- Protect security of proprietary information and data.
- Prevent or investigate possible criminal activities by employees.
- Prevent personal use of employer facilities.
- Check for violations of company policy against sending an offensive or pornographic email.
- Investigate complaints of harassment.
- Check for illegal software.
According to Computer Monitoring: The Hidden War Of Control,"The employer of today has the ability and legal right to read e-mail, review files stored on a company computer, examine computer usage, and track individual employee computer activities. The idea of anonymous actions is an illusion. Every action between a network and the computers connected to it can be tracked. Every action by an individual worker on a computer can be tracked, analyzed and used against the employee. The protections and freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights are there to protect the individual from the Government and do not generally apply to the normal employee/employer relationship." To benefit the business, employers have the ability to monitor employees whenever they feel is necessary.
In January 2016, European Court of Human Rights issued a landmark ruling in the case of Bărbulescu v Romania (61496/08) regarding monitoring of employees’ computers. The employee Mr. Bărbulescu accused the employer of violating his rights to ‘private life’ and ‘correspondence’ set in the Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. But the Court stated that the employer had every right to monitor the employee’s computer in this case due to the fact that such monitoring was implemented to ensure that there is no breach of company policy. This historic ruling has confirmed that it is not unreasonable for employers to monitor their employees’ computer activity and such monitoring does not violate their human rights.
Employee monitoring software developers warn that in each case it is still recommended to advise a legal representative and the employees should give a written agreement with such monitoring Majority of instances are a case by case situation and is hard to treat all the issues and problems as one. With the ever growing laws, employers shape their guidelines around the new rules and regulations that are formed in court cases.
Employee Monitoring can be used to monitor the safety and productivity of the employees but it also may help businesses financially. From the illoyal employee who steals time and money from the business to the redefining of unprofitable processes in monitoring employee actions, employee monitoring allows for financial profits from a small investment. The monitoring of employees can help in the protection of employees and it can help as protection in litigation by employees for job-related issues such as failing to perform, illegal activities and harassment claims. According to the American Management Association, almost half (48%) of the companies surveyed use video monitoring to counter theft, violence, and sabotage. Only 7% use video surveillance to track employees' on-the-job performance. Most employers notify employees of anti-theft video surveillance (78%) and performance-related video monitoring (89%), (Retrieved from the article The Latest on Workplace Monitoring and Surveillance) In an article in Labour Economics, it has been argued that forbidding employers to track employees' on-the-job performance can make economic sense according to efficiency wage theory, while surveillance to prevent illegal activities should be allowed.
An indirect way that companies can be affected financially through employee monitoring is that they can be sure they are billing clients correctly. According to "Business 2 Community", inaccurately billing clients is always possible because of human error. Such inaccuracies can cause disputes between a company and a client which could eventually lead to the client terminating its business with the company. This sort of termination will not only hurt the company's revenue stream but also its reputation with other clients or potential clients. The suggested solution to this problem is a time tracking software to monitor the number of hours a client spends with an employee. 
Johnathan Yerby said, "The enormity of potential productivity losses, as reported by Court (2004), is approximately one million dollars annually for a company with 500 employees surfing the Internet for just a half hour a day."  Not only does employee monitoring prevent theft of money and resources, but it also prevents theft of time. This often happens during the holidays with online shopping, as well as during March Madness. Employees might spend their time using their work time for personal uses and employee monitoring is intended to regulate this.
- Abusive supervision
- Computer surveillance in the workplace
- Counterproductive work behavior
- Mass surveillance
- Occupational health psychology
- Right to privacy
- Workplace privacy
- Workplace deviance
- Workplace incivility
- Workplace health surveillance
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