How Much Should Businesses Control Their Employees’ Computer Use?


Businesses now have a wealth of technology available to them to help them keep tabs on their employees. Everything from cameras to keystroke loggers is used to make sure that employees remain productive and to prevent them from engaging in activities that could ultimately harm the business. Employers welcome this technology because it gives them a way to make sure that their business is running smoothly. However, employees do not share this same enthusiasm for surveillance practices in the workplace.

The Trend of Employee Monitoring

In recent years, the number of techniques and products available for employee monitoring have increased significantly. If you feel like you are being watched, you are probably correct. A recent survey found that approximately 80 percent of all major companies monitor the online activities of employees. In 1997, only 35 percent of companies monitored their employees. Workplace monitoring is now considered business as usual.

Protect Your Data

Employers have a good reason for concern. According to one survey, it is estimated that as many as 55 percent of all companies have experienced a data breach that is a result of employee action. Sometimes, this is due to a lack of knowledge about security protocols. Other times, it is because the employee clicks on a malicious website unintentionally and exposes the entire business system to a virus. When employees are allowed to use company devices for personal use, it can have significant negative consequences and even result in liability if customer data happens to be compromised. Monitoring software can be used to block employees from visiting dangerous websites and taking security risks on the company’s system.

In addition, if they are allowed to use personal devices for company business, it can result in vulnerabilities to the company system. Business owners need to know how to protect their databases and networks. If the employee does not have proper antivirus protection, it can expose the company to a virus that is uploaded from the personal device. It is also difficult to track productive time when the employee is not using a company device.

Encourage Productivity

Employee monitoring can not only help to keep your system and business safe, but it can also help to improve employee productivity. It is no news that social media and smartphones are a big problem both at home and at work. It has worsened to the point where it can be considered an addiction in some people. Studies show that the average employee wastes about 2 hours of company time per day on personal internet use. Implementing content control with managed IT can increase productivity. It may be noted that during this time, the employer is paying them for services that they are not receiving.

Laws Related to Employee Monitoring

Let’s take a look at some of the legal issues surrounding privacy and rights. The issue of employee monitoring at work goes back to 1993. It was decided by the courts that when at work, employees had a limited expectation to privacy. Throughout the years, this principle has expanded to clearly include telephone monitoring, email, mobile devices, and audio and visual monitoring.

The rights of monitoring are now extended to include GPS tracking, especially when employees are in employer-owned vehicles. It also includes the monitoring of mobile phones such as contacts, call logs, photos, email, text messages, and video. For the most part, the law favors the rights of the employer to monitor almost every aspect of the employee’s life when they are on the clock.

Can it Go Too Far?

The law gives employers considerable liberty when it comes to monitoring the activities of employees, especially when they are on company-owned systems and using company-owned property. Technology has caused the blurring of lines between various realms of our lives. Many times, relationships formed at work carryover into after hours. This is when the line tends to get fuzzy.

When at work, there is a legal expectation that the employer will perform the activities for which they are being paid. In Vail v. Raybestos, it was determined that employers are permitted to spy on their employees if they suspect that the employee is taking illegal FMLA leave. This represents a specific situation. The employer’s right to monitor their employees depends on the type of job they do and whether they are public or private sector workers.

Protecting Yourself

It is clear that employee monitoring can help improve workplace productivity and to protect company assets. Many of the issues that have arisen regarding employee monitoring involve consent. This is where a good media policy and legal consent documents that address the limits and types of monitoring that will be conducted can save many hassles down the road. If you will be engaged using employee monitoring, the first thing that you need to do is to get a strong and clearly defined media policy in place that each employee will acknowledge as part of their employment at the company.

Now, there are many solutions for employee monitoring available to employers. It is clear that employees waive many of their rights to privacy when they are in the workplace, and in some circumstances, this limitation to privacy extends outside of the workplace as well. Having a strong social media policy and consent practice in place will help avoid any legal issues that may arise as a result of employee monitoring. In addition, the application of these policies must be uniform and consistent for them to represent the best protection.

Employee monitoring is now considered a part of good business practices. Employees are losing ground when it comes to the ability to complain about being monitored if they are using company property on company time. Monitoring employees at work is now the norm rather than the exception. There are many solutions available at an affordable cost. You can choose one that is obvious or one that works behind the scenes. The type of surveillance that you choose depends on the nature of your business and the types of vulnerabilities that you face.