Most employee policies today include provisions for employee monitoring. In fact, estimates from the Society for Human Resource Management suggest three out of every four employers use some form of monitoring.
It’s understandable when you consider that some estimates place productivity losses near 40 percent when employees send personal emails, use social media or text during the work day, said attorney Brent Smith who practices employment law.
“In most cases, employers are well within their rights to monitor employees,” he said, adding there are some areas where employers could find themselves being sued, publicly humiliated or both. “The key is to treat your employees the way you would like to be treated.”
Following are guidelines for the most common monitoring issues.
- Email — Employers have the right to establish policies prohibiting personal email and to monitor all email in the workplace, as long as they have a valid business reason.
- Internet — Laws governing Internet monitoring closely follow those for email since workplace computers belong to the business. Employers may block certain websites, limit the amount of time an employee may spend on a particular site and track all websites visited.
- Telephone and voicemail — The Electronic Communications Privacy Act prohibits employers from monitoring employees’ personal calls without their knowledge and consent.
- Hidden cameras — Employers may install hidden cameras to monitor employees but only in areas where there’s no expectation of privacy. There aren’t any laws requiring employers to notify employees of hidden cameras, but doing so is the ethical choice.
“Generally, when people accept a job, they voluntarily surrender their workplace privacy in exchange for gainful employment,” said Smith, “but that doesn’t mean they surrender their privacy rights in general.” Deceitful, secret or intrusive monitoring is usually grounds for legal action by employees. It’s safest and most respectful to monitor employees only when there’s an obvious business purpose.