Employee monitoring is the act of surveying employee activity. Organizations engage in employee monitoring to track performance, avoid legal liability, protect trade secrets, and address other security concerns. The practice may impact employee satisfaction due to its impact on privacy.
Employee monitoring software
If employees use company computers for their work, companies often utilize employee monitoring software that allow them to track everything employees do on their computers. For example, what emails were received, what applications were used and what keys were pressed.
Employees' phone call details as well as actual conversations can be recorded during monitoring. The exact number and duration of each call, and the idle time between calls, can go into an automatic log for analysis. In the United States, the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 provides some privacy protections for employees. See Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 § Employee Privacy.
One of the most effective forms of employee monitoring is through the use of video surveillance equipment. Video feeds of employee activities are fed back to a central location where they are either recorded or monitored live by another person. "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 and detecting problems before they become too costly.
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.
For employees that do not work in a static location, supervisors may choose to track their location. Common examples of this are delivery and transportation industries. In some of these cases the employee monitoring is incidental as the location is tracked for other purposes, such as determining the amount of time before a parcel will be delivered, or which taxi is closest.
Employee surveillance may lead to an executive's decision on whether to promote or demote and employee or in some cases even fire them.
Different techniques can be used, e.g. employees' cell phone or mobile phone tracking.
In arenas where employees are not paid to their full labor product, mass video surveillance is an industrial organization method deployed as a psychological tactic upon the proletariats psyche. Conceived by F. W. Taylor, though not available for many decades thereafter, video surveillance ensures near perpetual activity, or maximum exploitation. This method is favored in hotels to monitor housekeeping staff.
Employee privacy and ethical issues
Employee monitoring often is in conflict with employees' privacy. Monitoring often collects not only work-related activities, but also employee's personal, not related to work information. Monitoring does not mean that there are no limits to what should be collected. Monitoring in the workplace may put employers and employees at odds because both sides are trying to protect personal interests. Employees want to maintain 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.
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. The state of California requires that monitored conversations have a beep at certain intervals or there must be a message informing the caller that the conversations may be recorded, take note that this is not informing the company representative which calls are being recorded. Other states, including Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Colorado and New Jersey, also have laws relating to when a conversation can be recorded
The following uses of employee information are generally considered legal:
- 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 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."
There is a similar situation in Europe. 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.
A year later, in July 2017, German court also ruled that computer monitoring of employees is reasonable but the use of keylogging software is excessive.
Despite the obvious tendency of courts taking the employers’ side when it comes to employee monitoring, there are still quite a lot of gray areas. Even 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.
Employee Monitoring can be used to monitor the safety and productivity of the employees but it also may help businesses financially. From the dishonest unethical employee who steals time and money from the business to the redefining of unprofitable processes in monitoring employee actions, employee monitoring allows for the growth of 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 on humanresources.about.com) 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.
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