Employee Monitoring Financial Benefits

Financial Benefits of Employee Monitoring

January 30, 2016

 Most ethical organizations and businesses use employee monitoring as a way to protect their business. With the Internet at the fingertips of anyone who has access to a computer, certain preventative measures must be in place to protect the bottom line. I’m sure that anyone who owns a business and works hard to protect his or her reputation and ensure its profitability understands the need for employee surveillance.

As Americans, we pride ourselves on our freedom, and anything that interferes with our freedom is looked at as a violation of our Constitutional Rights. This is true in all aspects of American life. However, after the devastating 9/11 attacks, Americans learned to give up some of those freedoms for “safety” from potential terrorist attacks. The advancement of technology and lack of perceived privacy has brought us to another place where monitoring and screening is done often in the name of protection: our jobs and the workplace.


One cannot blame a businessman for adopting surveillance measures in order to ensure that business is functioning at the top of the profit margin. That’s why most businesses exist: to make money. Of course there are altruistic reasons as well, such as providing necessary services to the public or running a non-profit organization for an important cause. No matter what the business is, leaders want and expect a high level of professionalism, courtesy, and productivity from their workers. The time used on the job needs to be spent moving the company forward. This means utilizing resources appropriately, using time on the job for work related goals, and ensuring the survivability of the business in a very competitive environment. Happy, hard-working employees are the backbone of a great
business. I think we can all reflect back to a time (or the present) when we have or presently work alongside someone who is a “slacker.” This is a disservice to every worker who does what they are suppose to, in order for everyone to succeed together. If someone decides it’s more important to play on-line games or interact on social media during the workday, this does not represent a person who cares to move the company forward or advance up the ladder.


Leaders understand motivating employees to do their best require a sense of pride, appreciation, and rewards for a job well done. Monitoring non-related work activities allows the boss to correct the problem before it interferes with job security and gives the employee a chance to rectify the behavior. Workplace monitoring should be used as a way to reward those who do not violate company policy and advance those who provide excellent service to the customer base. In theory, monitoring on the basic level should advance a business, and move its employees upward and forward. This is one way to encourage this direction.

Social Media and the Workplace

Social Media and the Workplace: Is Monitoring Private Activity Legal?

January 22, 2016

This is actually a complicated question, for which the answers are hazy. The lines between what someone chooses to do in their private life versus how those actions may adversely affect a company’s reputation are blurred. Most states have already or are currently introducing legislation that will help guide lawmakers and business owners toward reasonable expectations. You may check the National Conference of State Legislatures to see where your state stands with regard to personal privacy rights and employer’s rights regarding social media accounts. As you can imagine, there are two sides of this coin, and neither are perfect in their arguments.

If you aren’t familiar with current hiring practices, about half of all businesses screen job applicants, including investigating their digital footprint in the social media world as a way of gauging their appropriateness prior to hire. In fact, there are companies out there that do the checking for the company both before and after hiring them. Here are the arguments for and against social media monitoring:


FOR (Employer Perspective)

  • Want to ensure the employee is not writing disparaging comments about the company
  • To ensure confidential details (such as a promotion not yet announced, a new product launch) is not disclosed
  • To monitor for on-line signs of workplace sexual harassment and bullying
  • Monitor for accidental or intentional disclosure of confidential client data
  • To ensure the employee is behaving in a manner than reflects favorably on the company (examples: smoking, drinking alcohol, writing inappropriate thoughts or opinions).


AGAINST (Employee Perspective)

  • Once the employee is “off the clock” how they choose to spend their time is their private business
  • Their social media accounts are just that: to interact socially with friends and family, not their boss
  • They want to fully be able to express their personal opinions about sensitive issues such as religion and politics. Why should they be fired for a differing opinion?
  • Discrimination exists and employers are not allowed to question someone’s sexual orientation, religion or disabilities. Employees feel that information would be discoverable and is against the law

There are arguments for both sides. Some states have upheld employer’s wishes for social media monitoring, including the need to disclose private usernames and passwords to their employers. Other states have enacted legislation that prohibits an employer from monitoring private social media accounts. In the end, both sides should “meet in the middle” and have policies in place that prevent social media faux paus. Educating the employee on what is proper and what is not, discuss the company expectations for proper on-line etiquette when it comes to writing anything negative about the job or fellow workers, and reinforce this policy at employee meetings as “reminders.” There needs to be a level of trust between both sides, and Big Brother overlooking on employee sites causes distrust, skepticism and may effect workplace attitude and productivity. The jury is still out on this matter, but I suspect with the ever-growing social media outlets, cool heads and common sense will prevail.

Employee Telephone Tapping

Employee Telephone Tapping: Good For Business?

January 13, 2016
phone tracking

 I’m sure most of us have been on the line with a company representative or certainly been placed on hold when the familiar message comes on: “This conversation may be recorded for customer and quality assurance purposes.” I hadn’t thought much about that until now, but it seems to make sense when it comes to ensuring the customer receives the courtesy, respect and a resolution regarding why they placed the call in the first place. But what about employee rights? Here are a few points to be aware of:

  • Over 80% of companies monitor their employees phone calls both incoming and outgoing
  • This may include any voice mail messages, either incoming or outgoing
  • Most employers use this method to monitor employee productivity, work ethics, and how they engage with customers
  • The recorded calls are often used as part of the employee evaluation


What About Conversations Between Employees?

This is fair game, too. If employees call one another on company lines, you can be assured that call is being recorded. Yes, even if you wear a headset. Some headsets allow the option to mute conversation when you are talking in person to another co-worker. Employers monitor calls through a device called a pen register. It has the ability to record calls, monitor the duration of the call and saves the numbers dialed. Save yourself the potential headache, and talk to your co-workers in the same manner you would if he or she are a client. This is especially important when talking on the phone.

Can My Employer Monitor Private Calls?

Technically, no. Under Federal Law, once an employer knows the call is private, the monitoring should end. However, not every business owner is aware of this. If your employer tells you it is against company policy to make personal phone calls from business phones, you should assume your call might be recorded. It’s better to be safe and use your own private cell phone (not a company cell phone) when placing personal calls.

At Cornell University School of Law, they keep tabs on legalities focused around phone tapping. If you are interested in following the latest laws including proposed legislation and appeals, you may find them here.

Under the Electronics Communication Privacy Act, wiretapping is illegal unless at least one of the parties is aware of the recording. Businesses get an exemption, since phone calls are part of their evaluation process. However, if an employer listens in on a private personal conversation, he or she is not allowed to record it, but there are no protections preventing them from listening anyway. I’m certain many of us would not appreciate our boss listening in on a private matter between spouses or friends. Again, the adage applies-if you aren’t sure and you want to protect your privacy, assume you are being watched and recorded. Don’t use business lines for any type of private use.

Employee Monitoring

Employee Monitoring- Ethical Considerations

January 5, 2016

Much of the discussion regarding workplace employee surveillance revolves around types of monitoring devices and methods, and the balance between the business’ right to know how their employees are spending their time on the job and the employee’s expectation of privacy. But, what about the ethical considerations that monitoring doesn’t address?

Technology is a fabulous tool, and when used properly, allows workers to be much more productive and streamline their work through effective and immediate communications and data at their fingertips. The problem with this is we have forgotten when our workday ends and our private time begin. This is especially true for people who do some of their work from a home office.


Another thing to consider is all the tests on top of monitoring that employees face upon hiring or as part of a surveillance program. Considering blood and urine samples for drug testing, utilizing biometrics such as retinal or palm scanning…really, just because employers can do this, should they?

Employers have a right and expectation to make sure while they are paying their workers to actually work, that work is what should be done. How would they effectively monitor this? They want to ensure compliance, safety, and productivity while the employee is on the clock. Why should they pay them to fool around on Internet sites that have nothing to do with the business conducted? This is a fair concern. So, employers track their workers through on line Spyware, keylogging, monitoring e-mail communications, cell phone use and GPS tracking.

Employees who are mature want to be treated with dignity and respect. Part of this is the desire to be treated as a capable worker and monitoring of phone calls and computer activities feels like a violation of privacy. In most developed countries, people view privacy as a basic human right. When they feel that right is denied to them, whether with good reason or not, they no longer can control what someone knows about them. This leads to feelings of loss of control and decreased autonomy.

It’s a tricky balance between the two needs. Our morals and ethics have not kept up with how fast technology is changing and developing. The most ethical thing that meets both needs would be to ensure the employee knows exactly what is being monitored, how it is being monitored, and at what frequency. There is something unethical about trying to trip someone up or catch him or her making a mistake. The rules should be clear and the potential consequences should also be available in an employee handbook. This way, the issue of employee surveillance is spelled out in clear terms that benefit everyone.

Employee Location Monitoring

Employee Location Monitoring-Personal GPS Surveillance Off Duty

December 30, 2015

 Of all the concerns I have about employee monitoring, this one is the most troubling, especially when it comes to employer owned Smartphones and laptops. Have you considered you can easily be tracked, even when you are not working? One can side with the business when it comes to making sure the company laptops and phones are not being abused and employees are using them to conduct business. Also, employers may track a person’s whereabouts and see if they left work early. Remember, a Smartphone is a computer, and the same rules apply, except the phone has GPS tracking built in.  It is now law that every cell phone must have a GPS tracker on it. Although I use an app to monitor my children’s whereabouts, they all know about it and it’s a safety measure for me as a parent. But an employer? No thanks.


Would you be surprised to learn that employers also are allowed to install Spyware on company cell phones? It is totally legal that the owner of the phone may place a keylogger or spyware on the phone. This monitors all activities including text messages sent and received, e-mails, and yes, your location at all times. And the most disturbing part of this is they are not obligated to tell their workers about the spyware. In fact, it only costs the business about $5.00 per month per phone to keep track of employees through GPS technology. Would you want your boss knowing you went to a strip club? A private counseling session? Where you are in your house? To know your location at all times?  The trouble with spyware is you most likely won’t know it’s on there unless your employer is honest with you.

One way of ensuring that you are not tracked, is shutting the phone off when you are not at work, or keeping it at home while you go out. It’s best to have your own cell phone to protect your privacy. There have been cases of employees shutting off phone locators and being fired for that. Unfortunately, there is no present law in place to protect a worker’s privacy.

Another concern is the business laptop. While it seems like common sense not to conduct personal business on the laptop from home, did you know that wireless services allow an employer to see what you are doing from your computer webcam? This includes if you use the webcam for private activities. It seems unconscionable, but it has happened.

The only way to truly protect your privacy from your employer during off duty time is to use your own private cell phone. This includes everything from texting, to e-mail, to search history and even taking photos from the camera. Ask your employer if he or she has a GPS employee monitoring service or spyware on the business cell phone. An ethical boss should tell you, but that’s not always reality. Protect yourself and use your own devices for all personal use.

Employee Computer Use

Employee Computer Use: Are You Playing Big Brother?

December 22, 2015

 Technology continues to grow in both sophistication and size and this fact is certainly evident in the workplace. I first learned of employee computer monitoring when I attempted to send a funny You Tube clip to my husband at his workplace, and the message came back with a statement that read, “The content contained in this message violates company policy.” When my husband returned home that evening, I told him what had occurred with the e-mail message. He non-chalantly informed me that his company monitors all e-mails, computer sites, and business cell phone activity. We decided it would be best to e-mail through his private at home account from then on.

What are the reasons why an employer would choose to monitor their employee computer activities?

  • Increase productivity-if an employee is using company time to engage in non-work related activities on the computer, the employer isn’t getting the most work out of his employee. They keep records of all on-line searches as well. Over 21% of companies have fired workers over inappropriate Internet use.
  • To avoid legal troubles- this may happen in several ways. If someone was looking at sexually explicit content on the company computer, and another worker of the opposite sex happened to see that, they could file a complaint for sexual harassment in the workplace. Additionally, if anemployee spends time on an objectionable site, he or she could accidentally reveal private business information, breach customer data or expose the business computer system to malware. Over 65% of employers have software that blocks certain websites, which is a 27% increase since 2001.
  • Computer monitoring is often used as part of the employee evaluation. It’s a tool that may be used to objectively record productivity, performance and conduct.



What About My E-Mail?

If you are using your company e-mail to send private messages, they may be monitored. Over 45% of employers use e-mail monitoring software. This tracks what types of conversations take place by searching for inappropriate language or content. And don’t believe it when someone tell you that hitting “delete” makes it all go away; E-mail messages may be stored in a data base for many years.


How About My Social Media Sites?

Presently, the states of Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin have enacted legislation that allows an employer to ask for usernames and passwords to social media sites. Employers are concerned about how their business is portrayed, particularly if things are written and shared that are negative and damaging. In fact, some companies hire a third party business to monitor employee social media accounts. About 10% of employers admit to monitoring social media accounts and another 12% monitor blogs and forums.


For Employers

  • Be forthright with your employees and let them know what activities you are monitoring. Many times, this practice alone deters your employee from breaking a company policy.
  • Place proactive filters on your company computers to prevent malware issues and data breeches.
  • Run regular reports looking at employee computer activity. If there is someone abusing the policy, a quick “reminder” may stop the behavior


For Employees

  • Don’t write or post anything that would place your job in jeopardy
  • Check your company policy about employee monitoring. If you have questions,ask a supervisor.
  • Make sure you know exactly what monitoring tools are in place, be it computer, telephone, e-mail or phone monitoring. It’s much better to know ahead of time, rather than finding out when you are fired for it.
  • Check your state laws. Know where your rights end and your privacy begin. This will save you trouble in the future and ensure a more cohesive work environment.

Biometrics and Employee

Biometrics and Employee Monitoring-Has It Gone Too Far?

December 15, 2015
Biometrics and Employee

 Every time I go into my physician’s office or take one of my kids to the Pediatrician, we are required to do a “palm scan.” Have you had this experience? It is a type of information technology that can identify an individual by methods using retinal scans, palm graphics, ear lobe identification and fingerprint scans. In fact, my husband accesses his Smartphone by pressing his fingerprint down on the home button. This ensures that nobody else may look at his phone unless they have a cleared and approved fingerprint access as well.  The first time one of my children was asked to do a “palm scan” at the doctor’s office, I was upset. Why did they need this? They already had their social security numbers and birthdates, and I felt that was enough. It was explained to me that this ensures the person being treated is who they say they are. It allows for accurate identification so that nobody can go into the doctor’s office with someone else’s insurance card, and use it to game the health care system. That explanationimmediately brought me back to a time when many years ago, a friend’s husband gave his insurance card to his brother and assumed his identity in order to have a needed surgery, as he lacked health insurance. I knew that was a shady thing to do, but at the time, many people were abusing the system. Apparently, so did the insurance and healthcare providers. Biometric identification was one way to control this problem.


Many companies require a submission for random drug tests as a condition of employment or to identify those employees who engage in illegal drug activities. One might argue that the drug effects and substance abuse leads to deviant behavior, including stealing money for drugs, or being on the job under the influence. Is this considered an invasion or privacy? Some would suggest that it is, of the most intimate kind.


There are two main concerns about companies using biometrics to identify their employees:


  • If an employee’s biometric scan was compromised, all of their personal information is vulnerable to hackers and criminals. It’s not like you can change your fingerprints for new ones if someone else assumes your identity.
  • Retinal scans in particular may expose the person’s private medical information and health risks due to DNA identification. Some things should be private, especially medical records.


This seems to me to be a bit overboard for a company to institute. People in sensitive jobs such as intelligence, confidential government work and those who have access to biohazards such as nuclear and biologic weapons may be required for the good of all mankind. But, for the average worker performing a job that does not require a high level of security, biometric monitoring is overboard. Time and the future will dictate where this technology takes us, from our own private information and security and well into the workplace.

Video Surveillance

Video Surveillance-What Are Your Workers Up To?

December 8, 2015
CCTV or surveillance operating in office

I’m sure that most of us are aware of the “Big Brother” video recording devices that are up in public places. Last year, I was driving on a highway just outside of Paris. I rounded a bend, and saw a flash from the road shoulder. I didn’t know what it was at first, but I found out about two months after I returned home. My photo was taken, along with the km/mile. I apparently exceeded the limit of the law, but I had no means to dispute this charge. I was back in the States and could not provide the proof needed to defend myself. So, I paid the fine and learned that day that no matter where I am, I should be aware cameras are probably there, too. The workplace is no different. Employers use video surveillance for a number of reasons, most of which are sound business practices.

How Is Video Surveillance Used By Employers?

  • Cameras are placed in central locations, especially in places where transactions are occurring. This may catch incidences of theft
  • Banks use them to capture robberies on tape for evidence
  • Stores use them to catch shoplifters
  • Some companies use them to catch incidents of employee sabotage
  • Cameras are used in employee parking lots for security reasons

All of these reasons are sound arguments for video surveillance. Of course, if one works in a bank or a convenience store (particular targets for theft) one recognizes the value this places to identify criminals in order for justice to be served. I’m certain if you are walking to your car late at night through the parking garage or lot, you may feel safer that a potential mugging would be captured for evidence. And of course, shoplifting effects us all, driving up the price of goods to cover for losses.


But, what about the reasons why employers use them to “spy” on their own employees? Unfortunately, there are cases of employee theft. I worked in a high-end restaurant during college. During the weekends, it was common to have five bartenders on staff. Two of us were aware that several of our co-workers were stealing money from the cash register. They would charge the customer for the drink, but never enter it into the register and they pocketed the money. The bar manager noticed a sharp decline in sales, despite the busy evenings. One night, the management pulled the drawer in the middle of our shift. Since there wasn’t a system of surveillance at that time, all five of us were blamed. Eventually, they kept closer tabs on which workers shifts had decline in sales, and identified the thieves. They were fired within a few months. Video surveillance would have not only protected the business from loss of profits, but left those of us who were innocent off the hook.

Sabotage is another reason employers use video surveillance. I remember watching those “shocking” hidden camera shows highlighting workers doing such horrid things like spitting in a customer’s food, or destroying company property over a disagreement. I think most people will agree this protects the business and the consumer from rogue behavior.

When does using video surveillance cross the line? They are not to be used in areas of seclusion such as locker rooms and bathrooms. Most courts and reasonable people agree this is a physical invasion, and employers have found themselves in legal trouble for doing this. There are worker rights, but privacy in the workplace is generally given up when you sign on the dotted line. If you’d like more “legal” language on the arguments for and against video and other methods of surveillance in the workplace, visit the National Workrights Institute webpage.