Big brother is watching. Even at the workplace. With the advancement of technology, employers are taking every possible step to achieve maximum productivity and profitability. Enter employee monitoring.
Employee monitoring can be defined as the use of various methods of workplace surveillance to gather data and information about the activities and locations of staff members. Employers argue that the main goals behind employee monitoring include prevention of internal theft, examining employee productivity, ensuring company resources are being appropriately used and providing evidence for any litigation.
Additionally, its proponents argue that it helps in understanding overall and individual employee behaviour, characteristics, traits, and so on, in a better way, which in turn improves company performance.
Some common methods of monitoring include:
Video surveillance:this is the most common and involves the use of video cameras placed on various locations in a company and which are used to provide video feed of employee activities that are passed through to a central location where they are monitored live by another person. These can be recorded and stored for future reference.
Software monitoring: Occurs when employees use company computers for their work. Companies can utilize software that allows them to track what their employees are doing on the computers.
Telephone tapping: occurs when an employee records employees’ phone call details and conversations such as the number of calls, the duration of each call, and the idle time between calls.
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.
Location/GPS monitoring: normally done as part of fleet tracking and telematics on company vehicles. Employers can track where a company vehicle is and where it’s been, even if the employee is off the clock. Employers may also use GPS tracking for company devices like laptops and phones.
Keylogging/keystroke logging: this is a process that records the keys a user is typing on the keyboard in order.
DATA PRIVACY CONCERNS
For an employee, there is minimal expectation of privacy during work hours or when using a company device. While it’s fine to monitor employees’ computer use to make sure they’re not wasting time on social media and frivolous browsing, employers should know they risk acquiring too much information and consequently infringing on an employee’s private data.
Some forms of employee monitoring have been argued to be invasive and going against data privacy laws. For example, some data privacy laws require that knowledge be given to both parties on a phone call prior to any phone recordings, this is inclusive of employees. Knowledge of an employee’s location even during lunch breaks, bathroom breaks or an out of office assignment might be considered invasive.
To avoid any legal pitfalls, it is vital for employers to gain consent or at the very least make sure their employees have knowledge that their data is being collected and stored. For example, posting clear signage where videos are being recorded or informing the employees on company policy regarding collection of data, is key. Further, simply citing the company’s policy and legal guidelines surrounding employee monitoring can cut down on possible privacy concerns as well as undesirable behaviour without the need to overtly monitor employees.
Additionally, employers have employees’ personal data, and they can run amok of privacy laws if they disclose private information to anyone while monitoring their employees. Employers have the burden of protecting that information, even that which comes from an employee’s personal browsing history or private data stored on a company computer. For example, if a data breach were to occur and certain sensitive information was exposed, it would leave the company vulnerable to litigation by the employee.
Moreover, studies have shown that the pressure on monitored workers can be unending and nerve-racking and can damage their physical and psychological wellbeing. Employers must take care not to infringe on employees’ privacy rights or to negatively affect their health and welfare with intrusive unregulated monitoring.
NEED FOR LEGISLATION
While currently lacking, there is a definitive need for legislation addressing employee monitoring and employers who abuse monitoring techniques. Ultimately, a balance should be reached by thinking through legitimate business interests and weighing them against employees’ expectation of privacy, while also considering data privacy laws.
The needs of both employees and employers must be considered. For employees, a good rule of thumb is to assume that anything they do on a company device or during company time is visible and capable of being collected by their employer.
On the other hand, a good rule of thumb for employers would be to always ensure they make their employees aware of any monitoring policies as well as obtain their consent where necessary to avoid any potential infringement of their private data.
Allan Tuli/The Star