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Employee monitoring

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Employee monitoring is the (often automated) surveillance of workers' activity. 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.[1] This practice may impact employee satisfaction due to its impact on the employee's privacy. Among organizations, the extent and methods of employee monitoring differ.[2]

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Surveillance Methods

A company can use its everyday electronic devices to monitor its employees almost continuously. Common methods include software monitoring, telephone tapping, video surveillance, email monitoring, and location monitoring.

Software monitoring. Companies often use employee monitoring software to track what their employees are doing on their computers. Tracking data may include typing speed, mistakes, applications used, and what specific keys are pressed.

Telephone tapping can be used to record 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 a log for analysis by the company.[2]

Video surveillance can provide video feed of employee activities that are passed through to a central location where they are monitored 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 an employee's performance by checking the surveillance to detect and potentially prevent problems".[2]

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 be used for employees that move their place of work. Common examples of companies that use location monitoring are delivery and transportation industries. Sometimes the employee monitoring is incidental as the location is tracked for other purposes.[vague] Employees' phone calls 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.[3]

Key logging, or keystroke logging, is a process that records a user's typing.[4] Key logging software may also capture screenshots when triggered by predefined keywords. Some[who?] see it as violating workplace privacy and it is notorious for being used with malicious intent. Loggers can 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.[5] 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.[6] 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.[7] 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. All employers must create a comprehensive employee handbook that will include both mandatory and recommended policies. Handbooks must explain in detail what employees are permitted or not allowed to do in the workplace. Employers must update handbooks if employment laws or policies change. 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."[8] 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.

On May 7, 2022, employers in the state of New York will be required to provide prior notice for the monitoring of employee internet, telephone or email usage. The new law is an amendment to the New York civil rights law and applies to any private individual or entity with a place of business in the state of New York.[9]

Legal Uses

Businesses use employee monitoring for various reasons. The follow is a list that includes, but is not limited to:[citation needed][10]

  • 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.

Legal Issues

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.[11] It held that a sales engineer had a 'reasonable expectation of privacy' against personal messages being read (including those to his fiance and his brother), even though he was told not to use a workplace Yahoo messenger for personal reasons, because "an employer’s instructions cannot reduce private social life in the workplace to zero. Respect for private life and for the privacy of correspondence continues to exist, even if these may be restricted in so far as necessary".[12] It follows that there is a human right to private communication, regardless of what an employer says.

A year later, in July 2017, German court ruled that computer monitoring of employees is reasonable but the use of keylogging software is excessive.[13]

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[14] Majority of instances are a case by case situation and is hard to treat all the issues and problems as one. As new laws have been enacted dictating the bounds of these practices, employers have been forced to change their monitoring protocols.[15]

Financial costs of monitoring

According to the American Management Association, almost half (48%) of the American 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).[16] 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.[17]

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.[18]

See also


  1. ^ Martin, Kirsten, and R. Edward Freeman. "Some problems with employee monitoring". Journal of Business Ethics.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  2. ^ a b c Mishra, Jitendra M; Crampton, Suzanne (1998). "Employee monitoring: Privacy in the workplace?". S.A.M. Advanced Management Journal. 63 (3): 4–14. ProQuest 231233456.
  3. ^ SHERMAN, MARK. "GOV'T OBTAINS WIDE AP PHONE RECORDS IN PROBE". Archived from the original on May 14, 2013. Retrieved May 13, 2013.
  4. ^ Leijten, Mariëlle; Van Waes, Luuk (July 2013). "Keystroke Logging in Writing Research: Using Inputlog to Analyze and Visualize Writing Processes". Written Communication. 30 (3): 358–392. doi:10.1177/0741088313491692. S2CID 145446935.
  5. ^ Mishra, J. M. & Crampton, S. M. (1998). "Employee monitoring: Privacy in the workplace?". S.A.M. Advanced Management Journal. 63 (3): 4.
  6. ^ Burks, F. Ethical Issues & Employer Monitoring Internet Usage., 2010.
  7. ^ "Supreme Court rules employees have right to privacy on work computers".
  8. ^ Yerby, Johnathan (2013). "Legal and ethical issues of employee monitoring". Online Journal of Applied Knowledge Management. 1 (2): 44–55.
  9. ^ Francis, Simone R.D. (2021-12-29). "Electronic Monitoring of Employees in New York: New Restrictions and Requirements Will Take Effect in 2022". The National Law Review. Retrieved 2021-12-30.
  10. ^ Mishra, Jitendra M. "Employee monitoring: Privacy in the workplace?". S.A.M. Advanced Management Journal. 63.
  11. ^ "CASE OF BĂRBULESCU v. ROMANIA (Application no. 61496/08)". European Court of Human Rights. 2016-12-01.
  12. ^ [2017] ECHR 754, [80]
  13. ^ Catalin Cimpanu (2017-05-08). "Companies Can't Use Keyloggers to Spy on Employees, Says German Court".
  14. ^ "How Companies Monitor Their Employees". 2016-09-23.
  15. ^ Yerby, Johnathan. "Legal and ethical issues of employee monitoring". Online Journal of Applied Knowledge Management.
  16. ^ "Training Solutions for Individuals, Organizations and Government Agencies".[permanent dead link]
  17. ^ Schmitz, Patrick W. (2005). "Workplace surveillance, privacy protection, and efficiency wages" (PDF). Labour Economics. 12 (6): 727–738. doi:10.1016/j.labeco.2004.06.001. hdl:10419/22931.
  18. ^ Vessella, Victoria (October 12, 2015). "6 Benefits of Employee Monitoring". Business 2 Community. Retrieved March 3, 2020.
This page was last edited on 27 March 2024, at 13:35
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