Thread line between privacy and monitoring of an employer at the workplace

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1. Introduction of the Topic

In today’s business environment, technology has a great role in almost every aspect of our lives. It is of no surprise that business owners noticed its potential as a method of monitoring its employees during the working hours. Almost all enterprises are equipped with telephones, PCs and internal email services. With these items, almost everything one do can be recorded. Although, it may seem as an invasion of privacy, this issue is not regulated yet; therefore, an employer might mind, and save most of the workplace conveyance.

In literature, a new technical term emerged to describe the process of putting together all electronic entries of a person, namely “digital footprints”. The employers may use them to assess employee production at the workplace. He might search for word models and communication models. Moreover, since there is no regulation an employer can state that is a accountable venture practice to evaluate employees while at work otherwise, might leave the employer unsheltered to liability.

According to a study conducted in United States in 2007 by a management institute and association (AMAePI) revealed that approximately 66% of the entrepreneurs are recording the site checks to expose inappropriate searching. Out of this group almost two thirds are using software stop connections to inappropriate sites. From 2001 circumstance, this implies an increment of 27 % and it was mostly due to possibility that employees will visit sites for adults, betting platforms or social networking, and entertainment. A nowadays tendency within the organization is the automatically monitoring of e-mail: almost one thirds of business owners have lay off workers.

2. Telephone Recording

Is an employer allowed to register employees when on the phone?

Mostly, yes. For instance, a manager may monitor discussion with potential clients hiding behind the concept of quality check. However, in some of US states, when all parts are in the same state, the law states that the protagonists should be informed by a message the dialog is monitored (California). As usual, there are exceptions and calls may still be followed without notice. Law does not allow monitoring of trading-related phone calls without a warning when people from outside the county are involved. As already used, there are exceptions even here: if the employer is aware the call has a personal character, under no circumstance he would continue overseeing the call. But this is not the end of it as sometimes employees are being asked not to take such calls using company’s phones but their own mobile phones; otherwise their privacy might be invaded.

Can a business owner asked for the record of one’s phone calls?

The matter can go even one step further and an employer may ask for the phone records of a certain subaltern. With the help of an item called pen register telephone calls can be stored. The main functionality of this pen register is to allow the manager to have the calls made by the employee. This is useful to assess the performance at the working place as the time spent with clients or, in reality to monitor closely how the employer is spending the working hours. Managers may use these devices to track employees, especially those who use telephones for a living. Often, employees are worried the information collected from these devices is misused to evaluate the level of their performance with customers.

If I headsets are being wear, can conversations still be registered?

There is no difference from the previous situation. The managers can monitor the conversations between co-workers or with customers even when headsets are used; there is no difference from the situation when a phone is used. To protect against is, the work can push the button that stops the broadcasting.

3. PC and Terminals Monitoring

It was mentioned at the beginning of the article that together with phones, computers can be used to build the digital footprint of an individual at his working place. Few types of PC monitoring can be distinguished:

  1. By software, which allows another person to see in real-time the screen of someone else’s PC or to store information in a shape of log entry on a hard disk or external terminal. Managers can monitor how the Internet connection is being used, which are assumed to be main causes of reduced productivity among employees of an organization. Well, this can work for most of the business types from out there but for monitoring employees within the data entry working field keystrokes can be counted. This way an employer will know how many times an employee touch the keyboard in one hour.
  2. Second option is to count the time a worker is not at the PC

Can the employer see ones’ terminal while he is working?

A sensitive discussion is if the employer can legally watch what is displayed on terminal while the user is working. In general, this is possible as the manager is the owner of all hardware components, and he might use them as he pleases.

It is of no doubt that this issue is a present problem of the business sector of modern times and employees have to be given a certain protection from PC and other electronic overseeing monitoring. United State Constitutions, by Fourth Amendment, might reduce the exposure of employees while at work when they are subjects of unreasonable searches. In any case, new and better technological tools are becoming available to measure and oversee employees at their working place. There is no surprise to see read in the news about situations where the decent monitoring of a worker stops and where his privacy is being invaded by his manager.

4. Mobile devices

Should my employer-provided phone be supervised?

Overseeing the operation of your employer-provided phone is legitimate in most cases. Your employer can inspect the information on the cell phone in a confidential way.

The received messages on my employer provided cell phone, are they confidential?

In a case that occurred in City of Ontario v. Quon, the Supreme Court inspected the personal messages of a police officer on a phone owned by the government and the court concluded that it did not meddle with his right. Also the search carried out by the court encouraged the employers to redefine their agreement with employees which will include charges on extra cost on exceeding the limit on text messages.

What right do I possess for using my mobile phone for job functions?

Bring your own Device (BYOD) is a policy employed by some employers; the policy encourages the employees to use their personal mobile phone for the purpose of the job. It alsohelpsto reduce cost for the employer.

For organizations that employ BYOD, they usually include it in their employment letter, policies or manual. It is advisable for the employee to read through and ask questions when in doubt in order to be certain that he/she is ready to partake in the BYOD policy.

Due to the effect that BYOD has on employees when trying to stabilize their privacy and the security of the organization’s information, the law has been set for the employee not to breach the agreement.

5. Email, Voice Mail and Postal Mail

Can my email and voice mail be kept private?        

Email and voice mails cannot really be kept private. Most times, organizations have an email order and it is legitimate for them to do a constant checkup on what goes in and out for security purpose. Employers can check email of all kinds, voice mails and even instant messages.

As an employee, you should know that there is no privacy. Your employer runs a constant check on what goes on in the email order. If any issue occurs and ends up in the court, such cases most times favor the employer.

Due to a case that occurred in New Jersey Supreme Court in March 30, 2010 that the counsel of an organization breached the privacy of an ex employee. The court of law established that employee should not expect privacy on a company owned device.

Do the messages I delete in my email remain in the system?

Email and voice mail move deleted messages to thrash and keeps them. Obviously, the message will be deleted but will be kept safe with other important information in the computer memory.

Are my private marked messages protected?

Some email give option to mark private messages but that does not assure your privacy. Unless it is written in agreement form you signed with your employer, that is when your private will remain private.

Is there any chance for messages to be confidential?

For the assurance of employee’s privacy, employers make use of encryption. Encryption will allow the message be scrambled at the sender’s end and be opened and accessible only to the receiver.  This means that not even you colleagues or anyone else can have access to the message except the sender and receiver. In some exceptional cases, your employer can.

Can postal mail meant for me be accessed by my employer?

Although the federal law is against the mail violation but your employer can access your postal mail. The body that deals with delivery of postal mails which is Domestic Mail Manual (DMM) ensures that the mail is handed over to any one at the delivery address and keeps the record.

DMM states that if a mail addressed to any kind of organizational or an individual with name or title and the person is not with the organization anymore, a senior officer or someone of same level can open the mail.

6. Social Media Observation

Can my post on social media sites make me jobless?

There will be some policies about this depending on your State law and employer.

Most of the companies include policies associated with the usage social media. These will limit what you can and cannot post on any social media sites, especially about the company and the employer. There’s a particular site namely Compliance Building having a list of social networking policies for companies. To find out more about your company’s policy related to this case, you can ask directly to your HRD and supervisor.

Some states in the USA such as North Dakota, Colorado, New York, Connecticut, and California have laws that forbid supervisors and employers from giving punishment to an employee due to social networking activity while on off-duty. However, the employers have the right to discipline their employees who cause potential damages and troubles to the company related to such kind of activity. Actually, there are laws of anti-discrimination that make employers aren’t able to punish employees based on gender, nationality, religion, race, age, and color. Anyone should contact a lawyer if there’s such kind of discrimination at work. You can search a lawyer who has the specialty in the law of employment. In fact, you can find him through the Association of National Employment Lawyers.

There’s also no federal law that employers aren’t allowed to observe and monitor their employees on social media and other networking sites. In fact, supervisors and employers are able to employ third-party companies to observe the employee’s activity for them. There was a company called Teneros that launched a service namely a “Social Sentry” in 2010. The objective was to track and monitor employees’ activity through the internet in any social media sites. Based on a reliable information source, the employers use it to ensure that the employees don’t leak any sensitive information of the company when using social media. It’s also to make sure that the employees don’t engage any kind of behavior that may damage the status of the company.

NLRB or the National Labor Relation Board has made some laws about the policies related to the involvement of employer towards social media. Those cases are merely fact-specific. There is guidance for this matter:

•    First of all, employer policies shouldn’t restrict roughly some activities that have gained the protection by federal labor law. For examples are the discussion of working conditions and wages among employees.

•    Also, any comments made by employees on social media won’t be protected if they are only about insignificant matters.

Should an employee give in his social media ID and password when applying for a job?

Many states in the USA have ratified legislation to protect job applicants and employees from employees who ask them to give in both social ID and password. Those states Maryland, Illinois, New Jersey, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Oregon, and many others. It just doesn’t seem right to take out the privacy from others.

7. Video Observation

Is it legal for employers to observe using a video in the workplace?

It’s likely yes. Video observation and monitoring is a particular method of finding out theft, monitoring employees, and securing zones. For instance, a public place may use video surveillance to detect or gather evidence on any bad acts. A company can also use this method to increase the security measure among employees.

Actually, employers are able to use it to monitor the productivity of employee as well as to prevent theft among employees. There’s no federal law that prevent this kind of act even when the employees don’t know being observed by their boss.

Are there conditions where video camera monitoring is prohibited?

In some cases, courts have stood up for the privacy of employees. It means that video monitoring will be considered as an invasion to privacy. It’s to prevent the misuse of video monitoring such as to monitor a bathroom or locker room.

Some laws made by states may also have the restrictions on how, where, and why employers are allowed to monitor their employees using hidden cameras. There’s a negotiation made by labor unions about video monitoring limitation of workers. The members of the union should talk to a representative if they have discomfort about video monitoring in their workplace.

What about audio surveillance?

Basically, video cameras that have a feature of an audio recording will be the concern of eavesdropping and wiretap laws. Actually, federal laws have no restriction against phone conversation recording as long as there’s a party knowing this situation. Most states also develop this law into further scope. There are 12 states that have enacted laws associated with audio surveillance. When recording the conversation, all parties should know about this wiretapping. You can find more details about it on the internet.

8. Supplementary Cases

Are promises made by employers about privacy issues in the workplace has a legal binding?

It’s hard to decide. Naturally, employers who state a policy of workplace issues, including privacy cases, it has a legal binding. Well, the employers can communicate such kind of policy in many ways such as union contracts, memos, or even mere handbooks. For instance, if there’s an employee makes a policy that employee will get a notification about video and audio monitoring activities.

Can employers utilize a GPS to track employees?

Employers may use GPS to find out their vehicles and employees during the work. The law about this act is evolving significantly. In fact, some employers will use any equipment to track the location of their employees, including a cellular device. You can learn more about GPS in the workplace through the internet.

Are there any reliable organizations that aids employees associated with workplace privacy?

Of course, there are some groups that can help the employees regarding workplace privacy. They actively involve in this kind of issue and they have strong regulation to support employees’ privacy in the workplace.


All these details should always be taken into consideration but keeping it all in your head can just give you a headache. The simplest and most convenient way to help employers to keep productivity level high in their company is surely technological. There is a full variety of programs out there which can help to keep track of office employees’ activity in the workplace. There are even those that are developed specifically for employee monitoring – easy to use and full of useful features. But even in this case to save yourself the trouble of doubting legality of installing this program even on the PC that your own it is better to just tell employees that they are being monitored. Because sometimes even simply telling can be enough to boost productivity.