Employee Monitoring App
Technology now makes it possible for employers to keep track of virtually all workplace communications by any employee, on the phone and in cyberspace. And many employers take advantage of these tracking devices: A survey of more than 700 companies by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that almost three-quarters of the companies monitor their workers' use of the Internet and check employee email, and more than half review employee phone calls. According to a study by the American Management Association, businesses offering financial services -- such as banks, brokerage houses, insurance firms, and real estate companies -- are most likely to monitor employee communications.
Employers have a legitimate interest in keeping track of how their employees spend their work hours. After all, no one wants workers surfing X-rated websites, sending offensive email, or calling in bets on the ponies on the company's dime. And employers may want to take steps to make sure employees are not giving trade secrets to competitors, engaging in illegal conduct at work, or using company communications equipment to harass their coworkers.
Employers are allowed to monitor their employees' communications, within reasonable limits. But employers must make sure that their monitoring does not violate their workers' privacy rights. And, on a practical level, employers must decide how much monitoring is necessary to serve their legitimate interests without making their employees feel unduly scrutinized.
The Law of Monitoring
Generally, the law allows you to monitor an employee's communications in the workplace, with a few important exceptions. Here are the rules.
Employers may monitor employee conversations with clients or customers for quality control. Some states require employers to inform the parties to the call, federal law allows employers to monitor work calls unannounced.
Employers generally have the right to read employee email messages, unless company policy assures workers that their email messages will remain private. For the most part, however, courts have upheld employers' rights to read employee email -- particularly if they have a compelling reason to do so (to investigate a harassment claim or possible theft of trade secrets, for example).
Employers may keep track of the Internet sites visited by their workers (sites with pornographic images, for example) .
Tips for Staying Within the Law
Employers currently have a lot of leeway in monitoring their employees' communications. However, the law in this field is evolving rapidly, as technological change and increasing concerns about privacy pressure legislators and courts to take action. If you decide to monitor employees, consider these tips.
Adopt a policy. Tell your workers that they will be monitored, and under what circumstances. If you indicate that you will respect the privacy of personal phone calls or email messages, make sure that you live up to your promise. The safest course is to ask employees to sign a consent form, as part of their first-day paperwork, acknowledging that they understand and agree to the company's monitoring policies.