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Employee Monitoring:
How Much is Too Much?

As the use of technology in the workplace continues to grow at a rapid pace, employees these days have access to more tools than ever before. And with mobile devices and social media being as prevalent as they are in our lives today, the word “privacy” has started take on an entirely different meaning.

Your employer can look up your social profile, review your contacts and see your activities while off work. Sound pretty harmless so far, right? Sure, but we all know that it rarely stops there.

Most big companies monitor their employees’ internet, email and phone usage, or keep an eye on their time expenses, while some even log their every keystroke and track their movement and exact location.

The lengths that a lot of businesses go to in order to monitor their employees’ activity can be quite staggering. Which leads us to following question – just how much employee monitoring is too much?

Legally Speaking

It’s a sad truth that technological advances tend to outpace the law, and the employee monitoring area is no exception. Businesses in the US have a surprising amount of freedom with regard to tracking their employees’ activity.

On the one hand, employers’ have entirely legitimate reasons to set specific boundaries and limitations for their workers: security concerns, leaking of confidential information, and liability for actions or comments of employees, to name a few. On the other hand though, any form of activity tracking should be implemented within reason, and comply with local and federal legislation.

Most state and federal privacy laws, for example, give discretion to employers as to how far they can go with their staff monitoring policies. In some states, employers don’t need to inform their staff that they are being monitored, while others require explicit consent from employees.

In terms of specific forms of monitoring, employees should expect little privacy when on company grounds and using company-issued equipment like phones, computers and vehicles. Same goes for video surveillance – as long as it’s conducted in common areas and entrances, it does not need to be disclosed nor agreed to by your staff.

When it comes to GPS tracking however, things get a bit trickier. There’s no federal law to keep businesses from tracking their workforce with GPS, with only select few states imposing restrictions on it. Outside of those states, any employee who objects to having their location tracked will need to prove in court that their basic rights to privacy were violated. Which is, admittedly, not that easy to do. Your case would have to be so outrageous as to basically shock the judge to have any chance of winning.

Let’s take the case of Myrna Arias from 2015, for example. A former employee of Intermex Wire Transfers, she claimed to have been fired for turning off a GPS tracking app on her company-issued phone after discovering that it followed her location even when off the clock. The case was ultimately settled out of court, but sparked a new wave of debate surrounding the issue of employee privacy.

A Balanced Approach

Of course, businesses have every right to protect their interests. But at the same time, employees have the right to not feel spied on while at their workplace. A large number of your staff may feel uncomfortable about being tracked should you decide to implement a monitoring system, and rightfully so.

That’s why it’s so import to find a balanced approach, where the employer can have a reasonably strict security policy, while not overstepping the boundaries of their employees’ privacy.

Minimize the impact. To start, businesses should reevaluate their current or planned monitoring methods, and consider whether there are less intrusive ways of achieving the same goals. Do you really need to control all of their internet traffic, or would a random check every other week be enough?

Prioritize transparency. Practice shows that employees are a lot more likely to understand and agree to new policies if they’ve been informed about them upfront. So make sure you’re transparent and forthcoming about the importance of monitoring and the goals you are hoping to accomplish with it.

Be compliant. Even though employers have a significant amount of legal leeway regarding employee monitoring, there are several important laws and regulations that they should absolutely follow. Specifically, HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), RIPA (Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act), ECPA (Electronic Communications Privacy Act) and DPA (Data Protection Act).

Establish a policy. If you’re convinced that having a monitoring system is absolutely necessary for your business, it would be good idea to establish a clear and comprehensive policy. The policy should contain a detailed description of your monitoring practices. On top of that, considering adding a respective clause to your employment contracts, or have a dedicated consent form, where employees can explicitly agree to your tracking measures.

Our Take

Some forms of employee monitoring are quite harmless, while others are borderline intrusive. Here at actiTIME we are overwhelmingly in favor of the former type, with timely timesheet submission being practically the only way we track our employees’ activity.

It’s great for employee morale, and allows us to foster an atmosphere of trust and transparency where employees feel comfortable being who they are without having to worry about being watched all the time.

And that’s why our product perfectly reflects that philosophy – no GPS location tracking, no forced time entry or mandatory approvals, and no monitoring of keyboard and computer activity.

To Summarize

Preserving your business interests while taking into account employees’ expectations of privacy is a tricky balancing act, but not an impossible one. Have a clearly defined policy in place, and consider all legal limitations to make sure that any of your monitoring initiatives don’t end up hurting your staff and your business.

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