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Employee Monitoring Activities: Privacy Concerns

Updated on October 7, 2015
Employee monitoring helps increase business productivity
Employee monitoring helps increase business productivity


The technological advancement has made it possible for business owners to monitor the way their personnel behave and perform in the workplace. Thus, employers tend to control their workers’ computers, telephones, voice mail, e-mail, online presence, behavior etc. Almost everything people do in their offices can be controlled. However, this monitoring is often unregulated as there are no laws regulating this aspect nowadays. As a result, employers have the right to control your communications in the workplace just as they wish, unless the policy of the company states otherwise.

On the other hand, it has been proven that employee monitoring helps increase the overall productivity of personnel and boost business in general. That is why this is quite a widespread business practice nowadays. Almost all employers, who are concerned with their business success, control the way their workers behave and perform in the workplace.

The Most Widespread Types of Employee Monitoring

According to the survey conducted by the American Management Association, almost 2/3 of business owners control their employees by means of using different methods. Thus, 65 % of employers use employee monitoring software to prevent data theft and check what exactly their workers do when using the Internet in the workplace. 43% of business owners control the e-mail use to check what kinds of correspondence their workers have. Over 50% of companies consider it important to identify how much time their workers spend at the keyboard. They also track the amount of mistakes made and the quality of the content. Only 7% of employers use video surveillance methods to see how their personnel behave in the office. Let us have a closer look at the most widespread methods of employee monitoring and their connection with privacy rights. The methods we will talk about below are:

  • Telephone monitoring
  • Computer monitoring
  • Mobile devices tracking
  • Video surveillance

Telephone monitoring is effective in defining the proficiency of personnel
Telephone monitoring is effective in defining the proficiency of personnel

Telephone Monitoring

Employers are allowed to practice telephone monitoring nowadays. Some of them do that to control the quality of calls and information their customers get. This is a common practice in call centers and customer support services, because this is the best way to find out the proficiency and knowledgeability of employees. In some US states, like California, for example, the state law obliges business owners to make their employees aware of the fact that their telephone conversations are recorded. At the same time, employers are also obliged to stop recording the call as soon as they realize that the call is personal. To prevent such situations, employees are warned not to make personal calls from their workplaces.

Computer monitoring is used to control web surfing and e-mail correspondence of employees
Computer monitoring is used to control web surfing and e-mail correspondence of employees

Computer Monitoring

As far as computers are used in each office nowadays, employers consider it crucial to control the way their employees use them. With this purpose, they use special computer software apps, which make it possible for them to see what kind of information their employees look for, what websites they visit, what files they download and how much time they spend at each online resource. Computer monitoring software, one of the best examples of which can be found at , allows controlling both web surfing and e-mail correspondence. Such apps are extremely effective when it comes to distinguishing between the hard-working and responsible employees and those who are lazy and spend time chatting online or browsing the web instead of working.

Apart from that, employers often use keystroke monitoring. These programs help find out the amount of keystrokes a worker makes during the specified time interval, the amount of mistakes made and even the quality of the content produced.

It should be mentioned that employees may be protected from different types of electronic monitoring (including computer tracking) under specific circumstances. Thus, there are union contracts that limit the rights of business owners to monitor their employees’ computers. The US constitution, namely the Fourth Amendment, also states that workers who work in the government establishments are protected from being supervised in this way.

Mobile devices may also be monitored
Mobile devices may also be monitored

Mobile Device Tracking

Most employees inquire if their chiefs are allowed to monitor their mobile devices. In fact, employers may legally use special applications to monitor the way their workers use their smartphones, for example. Moreover, they are allowed to record e-mail and text messages, websites visited, contacts and even photos and videos stored in these devices. Some employers, by the way, allow their personnel to use their personal mobile phones for work purposes. Such devices are then referred to as “Bring Your Own Devices” and they participate in special programs, which pose serious challenges when it comes to protecting the privacy rights of employees and ensuring the security of business information.

Video surveillance helps prevent thefts and increase employee performance
Video surveillance helps prevent thefts and increase employee performance

Video Surveillance

Are employers allowed to use video surveillance in the workplace? Actually, yes. Moreover, video surveillance is one of the oldest and the most popular methods of employee monitoring, which is a necessity in such places as banks, governmental organizations, parking garages etc. It is officially allowed to use hidden and visible cameras not only to ensure the safety of workers, but also to prevent thefts, increase employee productivity and observe the way the personnel behave when their chiefs do not see them. However, it is prohibited to install cameras in restrooms and checkrooms without employee awareness of the fact.


The issue of privacy rights of employees in the workplace is quite controversial. Although there exist some laws regulating the usage of employee monitoring methods, it is frequently up to the company to decide whether to apply these methods or not. Nonetheless, each employee should be aware of his/her rights to be able to protect them in case of necessity.

What employee monitoring method does not violate the privacy rights of workers, in your opinion?

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