Electronic Surveillance on-The-Job: The Pros and Cons of Employee Monitoring
Modern technology has allowed employers many new capacities, including the capacity to electronically oversee employees every action while on-the-job. In recent years many employees have argued that surveillance while on-the-job is a violation of their right to privacy. Employers argue however that employees should not have a right to privacy in the workplace, especially as the employer pays them to perform a duty for the employer. Despite this almost 100% of employees likely report at one time or another engaging in some personal business while at work.
Unfortunately, there are few laws that side with the employee at this time. Most laws argue in favor of the employer, as long as the employer tells the employee of their plans about employee surveillance at the workplace. Below we'll discuss what types of surveillance corporations are now using to protect themselves, and discuss the advantages and disadvantages such methods have for employees.
More and more employers are watching employees in the workplace, especially using computer information systems to track employee communications. Though many employees claim electronic surveying violates their right to privacy in the workplace, many organizations back up the practice claiming they have a right to make sure employees are engaging in productive activities while on-the-job. Electronic surveying takes many different forms, and may include collection, analysis and reporting of information from computer terminals, telephone conversations and even extracting information from employee voice mail messages (Crampton & Mishra, 4).
Facts and Statistics
More than 26 million workers are monitored each year in the United States, with more employers adopting surveillance measures every year (DeTienne, 33). Many of the workers recorded are evaluated from a performance level by electronic surveying. Some studies suggest that as many as 30 million people in the next decade will be consistently watched to discover their day-to-day activities on-the-job (DeTienne, 33).
There are many different employee monitoring devices available for employers today. The most common is computer monitoring systems (Losey, 77). These systems often evaluate the accuracy and keystrokes an employee inputs into the system (Crampton & Mishra, 4). Other monitoring includes surveillance of employee activities through video surveillance cameras. These cameras can check employee activities at and away from employee terminals. Of particular interest to employers are activities such as theft, horseplay, safety and spying (Crampton & Mishra, 4).
Computer monitoring systems are by far the most common systems used by employers to track employee work roles. Computer monitoring can even detect the time an employee spends away from their computer terminal or whether they are idle while at their computers. Keystroke monitoring however is much less invasive than e-mail and communications monitoring. More and more employers are viewing private e-mail messages and other communications that employees send while on-the-job. Employers often justify this practice by claiming they have a right to ensure that employees are working while on-the-job rather than using personal time and the organizations equipment to conduct private business.
Many employers' record e-mail and voice mail as common practice (Crampton & Mishra, 3). Most employers are able to use new technologies to check e-mail even after an employee deletes their e-mail. Most messages are permanently backed up by organizations using computer information systems. Unfortunately there are few federal laws that specifically restrict an employer from reading any e-mails or computer files and employee creates (Crampton & Mishra, 4). Studies suggest that as many as one in five companies search employee e-mails and other computer files.
Other means employers adopt to record employees include eavesdropping on employee conversations by phone tapping. Phone tapping allows employers to track incoming, outgoing and the frequency of phone calls (Crampton & Mishra, 4). Even employee security badges provide employers a means to track employees, by monitoring their location and the number of times they a building.
At this time there are no comprehensive federal laws that protect employee privacy on-the-job (Alderman, 31). Rather, because of advancements in technology organizations are better able to record employees using information technology without consequence
Electronic Communications Privacy Act
The most well-known law related to employee monitoring in the workplace is the Electronic and Communications Privacy Act. Employees are granted some protections under the law but thanks to laws like the Electronic Communications Privacy Act most employees are subject to surveillance. This act does not limit the policies organizations use for allowing employees to use company property for private e-mail.
There are in fact many interpretations of this law. In general, the law protects individuals from unauthorized access to their e-mail, however it does allow access to private e-mail under circumstances defined by the organization to heighten the security of the employer. The employer may also require that employees grant the employer access to private e-mail as part of a condition of employment.
If employees engage in any illegal activity then by law the employer may be obligated to turn over any communications or information to law enforcement officials (Worsnop, 1025).
Recent Facts and Figures: Electronic Monitoring and Surveillance
In May of 2005 the American Management Association published a survey that examined the employers using monitoring in the United States. This most recent study suggests that 26% of employers have fired workers for using the Internet inappropriately, while 25% have fired employees for simply e-mail misuse, including sending private e-mails while on company time (AMA, 1). The study also shows that 6% of employers fire employees for using office telephones for personal or long-distance calls.
The report also shows that up to 76% of employers are now monitoring employees Website or Internet use to gauge what sites employees are viewing while at work. Other companies have taken a proactive approach, blocking employees from connections to Internet sites that might be inappropriate.
Nearly half of the employers surveyed by the AMA pointed out they stored and reviewed computer files for all employees, while more than 55% reported they keep and view e-mail messages.
The good news is most of these organizations tell employees of their actions. Nearly 80% of the organizations surveyed told employees that they would record computer use and computer files, and almost 90% let employees know they recorded e-mail communications in the workplace.
This suggests that employers are monitoring employees more often than before, but are also being careful about it. They are telling employees of their intents to prevent trivial lawsuits. With this many employers develop policies that dictate how employees can use e-mail, the Internet and voice mail while on work. More than 84% of companies have policies describing personal e-mail use at work.
This is in response to the 13% of employers tat employees have taken to court for privacy violations. Most of the cases bought to court sided in favor of the employer rather than the employee. Nonetheless, the costs associated with such cases are not appealing for most organizations.
Many employers currently block access to telephone numbers that are inappropriate. The AMA study shows that more than 50% of employers currently block employee access to numbers that are not fitting, while 51% track the telephone numbers that employees dial regularly.
Many employees assume that video surveillance is less common than it is. Much like with computer or telephone monitoring, nearly 51% of employers in 2005 are video monitoring employees, compared with only 33% in 2001 (AMA, 1). Not only that, employers are using these tapes to track employee performance. Of the companies that use video surveillance, a majority do tell employees of their aim.
Advantages of Monitoring
There are many advantages to monitoring. Electronic monitoring does for example, provide objective evidence of employee behavior on-the-job (Worsnop, 1025). This allows employers to evaluate employee performance in an unbiased manner and prevent managers from being too subjective when reviewing an employee's performance.
Employers can use electronic monitoring such as keystroke surveillance to gauge employee performance.
Electronic monitoring may also allow more flexibility for work scheduling, enabling more employees to telecommute or work from home as their employers have a way to record their activity (Crampton & Mishra, 4).
Some employers are putting electronic surveillance to good use, using it to verify good performance ad prevent violence or harm on-the-job. Sometimes video surveillance is more likely to deter employees from engaging in sexual harassment and other problematic behaviors (Crampton & Mishra, 4).
Lastly, electronic monitoring of employee activities on-the-job helps employers protect proprietary information. This is especially important for employees working in classified fields, including employees working in the health, HR and government arena. Employees that have access to proprietary company information are less likely to engage in devious behavior if they know they are being closely watched. This increases the likelihood that they will be caught and prosecuted by the organization (Crampton & Mishra, 4).
There are many ways organizations can work to make monitoring more palatable to employees. One way is to ensure they tell employees when they may record them. This is common practice in many organizations. Some have suggested that organizational monitoring of teams…