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Understanding limits of employee surveillance

Understanding limits of employee surveillance

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Human resource professionals need to understand what the boundaries are when considering monitoring of employees. Every company should have a clear policy in place regarding telephone and internet usage in the workplace. Employers should notify employees when they're hired what privacy rights they are forfeiting when they begin working in a company.

Internal computer usage issues

Employees should be made aware of company policies regarding computer use. This is particularly important if the computers are able to connect to the internet. Today, many people opt to shop online, bank online and stay in touch with friends and family through social media sites. Companies who have a policy for monitoring usage through the use of keystrokes or who collect information on computer usage need to ensure employees understand that their credit card information, banking information and passwords may be accessible to one or more persons in the company.

Telephone usage policies

Employers should have policies in place that dictate when and how an employee may use company telephones. As part of this policy, employers must disclose whether or not calls are being recorded. In some states, phone calls may not be recorded without disclosing such recording to one or both parties engaged in a call. There are exceptions about recording personal calls. Under federal law, if an employer determines an employee is on a personal call, they must stop the monitoring process. However, keep in mind, if an employer has told their employees that personal calls should not be made on business phones, the employer is under no obligation to stop monitoring. Anyone interested should read the 11th circuit court's 1983 decision Watkins v. L.M. Berry & Co., 704 F.2d 577, 583.

Video and audio surveillance

Many people are oblivious to the fact that hundreds of businesses have some type of video surveillance equipment on-site. Typically, employers are allowed to have both video and audio equipment in place with the exception of rest rooms and, in some cases, break rooms. Employers who hire people to operate vehicles equipped with GPS are allowed to track the vehicle at any time during its operation. Employees should be made aware of this type of surveillance.

Social media account names and passwords

Oftentimes an employer will look up potential employees on social media prior to hiring. This is often done as part of the vetting process. Some states have passed rules which specifically prohibit employers from asking for an employee's user identification or password to their social media sites. Any human resource professional who works with a company that has offices in multiple states must be aware of these rules.

Destructive conversations on social media

Everyone has a bad day from time to time and for many employees, venting to friends and family members on Facebook or Twitter is now becoming more normalized. Employers may not like the fact their employees are talking bad on social media but it's likely they can't be fired for these actions. There are situations where an employee may be fired for their interactions on social media, including the following:

  • Disclosing sensitive internal business
  • Disclosing a trade secret
  • Spreading lies on social media about their employer (current or past)

It is important to be aware that in many instances, an employer must have a policy in place that specifically states what actions are not acceptable and what the penalties for those actions could be including discipline or firing.

While the data for social media, internet and telephone violations is not reported on a regular basis, in 2014 a survey was done by American Management Association (AMA) and the results were pretty astounding. About 304 companies were surveyed and the data showed the following:

  • More than 25 percent of employers had fired workers for violations of company policy or inappropriate language in emails or online.
  • Nearly 70 percent of employers monitor internet connections.
  • Almost half of all employers use tracking content to monitor keystrokes and time spent on a keyboard.

There were certainly other findings but these were the most fascinating. In today's digital age, every company needs to understand where the lines are between proper monitoring and invasion of privacy.

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