Employee Monitoring






Employee Monitoring

Employee monitoring has both positive and negative effects. Despite the fact there are legitimate reasons to monitor what employees do at the workplace, an overzealous manager may create unfavorable environment made up of mistrust. Either way people want to look at it, employee monitoring is an essential factor which determines the level of competitiveness and productivity in the workplace (Nash, 2009). Electronic surveillance is one of the commonly used forms of employee monitoring. According to an annual Electronic Monitoring and Surveillance and Survey carried out by The ePolicy Institute and the American Management Association (AMA) in 2001, the use of electronic surveillance in the corporate world is increasing every year. Analysts say that not every workplace, workforce, environment or work culture calls for electronic surveillance of employees (Tavani, 2009). Depending on the environment and culture of workplace, electronic surveillance may in fact injure trusts and relations and create powerful and wrong message that limit the potential of workers.

Employers need workers who are productive, but on the other hand, employees do not want each and every move they make being scrutinized. This is the major conflict created by employee monitoring in the workplace. Modern technologies have enabled employers to monitor several aspects related to employee performance particularly on computer terminals and the telephone, via voice and electronic mail, and the time workers are on the internet (Nash, 2009). It is very difficult to evade such kind of monitoring, and unless company policy does not authorize it, employees must be keen when using these devices. A certain technology has been developed which claims to have the ability of analyzing the behavior of an employee on the basis of “digital footprints” which have been created every day in the workplace. All electronic records are brought together by this technology where employers can study behavioral patterns to analyze the performance and conduct of the employee.

The first major benefit of employee monitoring is increased productivity in the workplace. In a competitive environment, time is money implying that every minute an employee spends away from his functions leads to increased costs and low revenues. The determinant of profit or loss in an organization is workforce productivity (Bueckert & University of Manitoba, 2008). Workers tend to waste many hours of productive time by performing personal activities such as online shopping, online games, stock trading, online auctioning, downloading music and software, personal emails and chats. A recent survey done by Gallup poll estimates that an employee wastes close to 75 minutes daily doing unproductive work, like the ones mentioned above. If you use the average salary in America of $20 per hour, each employee accounts for a loss of $6,250 per annum. If a company has 500 employees who earn an average of $20 per hour, the annual loss would amount to $3 million dollars.

Employee monitoring eliminates leakage of confidential information. Information which a company withholds is an important asset determining its competitiveness in the market. This includes trade secrets, customer contacts and information, source code and programming, product development and competitive strategies (Kizza, 2010). This information can be accessed by employees and can be leaked to rival companies. Although organizations usually develop security features such as passwords, firewalls, encryption, etc, these are not enough to employees who have been authorized to access this information. Electronic monitoring and keystrokes are essential means which act as a limiting factor to leaking of crucial information. More than 75% of businesses in America have reported loss of proprietary and confidential information leading to a loss of millions of dollars in form of litigation and lost revenues.

These sentiments are supported by many competing firms but prevention of this problem has often proved to be a major stumbling block without solution. When all computer and internet activities are monitored, employers have an opportunity of discovering who copied and printed certain information, the person who sent it and the recipient of the email (Roebuck, 2004). Modern technology ensures that nothing is done on computers either online or offline that cannot be recorded and retrieved if the need arises. Therefore, employee monitoring enables employers to discover confidential information which was leaked and discover the place it was leaked from by analyzing the whole systems of logs. Moreover, these technologies enable employees to conduct independent investigations which will not discriminate any employee and thus eliminate the possibility of loosing valuable information which gives other companies a competitive edge.

To add on, employee monitoring is a valuable practice which assist in the recovery of lost information. Lost information has become a common thing among major corporations nowadays. With modern technologies, and many employees communicating through chats emails and instant messaging, companies must ensure that information can be recorded and recovered (Nash, 2009). With increased usage of these new forms of communication, traditional forms such as written letters are becoming less popular. Although it has become easy to communicate in a modern workplace, it is still challenging to file this data. Therefore, by monitoring of workers, several types of information can be retrieved be it lost files, customer information and communication, threats, defamation, abusive language or criminal activity. Employee monitoring enables employers to meet compliance standards pertaining to recording keeping of transactions, communication and employee database.

There are several regulatory agencies such as Federal trade Commission Safeguards Rules, the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA), and the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) which require organizations to enact these rules relating to information security plan. Healthcare institutions are required by HIPAA to establish security measures such as monitoring of emails and files so that the confidentiality of patient information is not compromised. When organizations fail to comply with these policies, they are subject to litigations, fines and license revocation. The national Association of Securities Dealers (NASD) requires organizations to maintain both written and electronic information which they transact with their customers (Nash, 2009). Employee monitoring can take various forms some of which are universally accepted in the modern working environments. For instance, an employee, a company representative or a broker dealer who transacts business through emails must maintain and preserve information in a way that can verify the authenticity of collected information. This also includes chat conversations, email and instant messaging from home.

Sarbanes-Oxley Act which was enacted after the Enron/Arthur Anderson scandal imposed harsh penalties for any organization which destroys important data, and this includes electronic data. Moreover, employee monitoring has been authorized by several legislations which requires companies to preserve electronic information which can be used by an auditor or in legal cases (Stanton & Stam, 2006). Monitoring of employees is connected to regulatory issues and companies should not be worried with privacy issues as long as all employees clearly understand the company policies. Companies have to make sure that they do not abuse privacy laws in the process of monitoring their workers. Moreover, there are several reasons why courts of law tend to side with employers whenever a litigation occurs. Firstly, whenever an employee uses computers and the internet, he must realize that they are company properties (Weckert, 2005). Moreover, workers are hired to carry out company objectives and thus employers have a right to ensure that this goal is attained by monitoring them.

We have already seen that monitoring service calls and video surveillance has several advantages which can benefit the organization. However, if the manager does not take care when implementing monitoring policies in the work place, more limitations may arise (Kizza, 2010). Critics of employee monitoring say that this process exposes the company to several disadvantages which limit productivity of workers if they are implemented in an irrational manner. Employee monitoring is a potential invasion to the privacy of employees in the workplace. When cameras are placed in the wrong places and there is inappropriate monitoring and storage of video footage, a company can face litigations based on privacy claims. Monitoring of files and emails is another potential source of privacy invasions. Some emails used at home and at workplace are similar since employees tend to carry additional office work to their residence.

Moreover, employee monitoring may limit additional working hours since some employees may prefer to work from home on weekends as overtime. Therefore, an organization must ensure that its monitoring policies do not conflict with the ability of workers to put in more hours of productive work during free periods. To add on, employee monitoring may create a false sense of security in an organization. For instance, a video surveillance can only be effective if they are actively maintained and monitored (Roebuck, 2004). Moreover, there must be a competent IT department that carries out electronic monitoring to ensure that some innovative personnel do not evade the systems. A false sense of security leads to redundancy of the security system and the company may be functioning in a similar manner in the absence of monitoring policies. Employee monitoring is a potential source reducing employee morale. Monitoring often promotes low morale due to a lack of trust and this negatively affects the performance of an employee. Employee monitoring can create a sense of big brother in the work place and thus breed contempt.

Both critics and proponents agree with the fact that employee monitoring can be beneficial both to the employer and employees if one group does not abuse their rights and privileges. Moreover, employee monitoring has been on the increase in recent years and the trend will not decline in the near future. Several studies indicate that employers will not relent in ensuring that employees maximize all their potential and does not misuse office hours doing personal activities. A recent study (2007) done by the American Management Association and the ePolicy Institute showed that two-thirds of employers monitor the websites visited by their employee, so as to curb inappropriate surfing. 65% of employers use software which block websites which are not beneficial to the company policies. There is a 27% increase in this policy since the survey was conducted in 2001(Bueckert & University of Manitoba, 2008). Companies limit employees from visiting sites with explicit content, games, entertainment, auction, social networking, shopping, and external blogs. Among the 43% who monitor emails, close to 75 percent use technology which automatically monitor all emails which employees send and receive. Moreover, 28% have fired employees who have misused their emails.

About 50 percent of companies track content, keystrokes and the amount of time employees spend at the keyboard. Only 7 percent of these companies use video surveillance to monitor their employees. Moreover, to ensure that their tracking programs are legal, these companies (78%) notify workers about the presence of antitheft video surveillance as well as performance related video monitoring. In most cases, employers monitor telephone conversations between an employee and a customer to enhance quality control. Although some states laws such as in California require workers to be informed about this policy, some business in other regions can implement this policy without informing their employees (Bueckert & University of Manitoba, 2008). Exception is made when it comes to personal controls. Federal case law requires an employer to stop monitoring a call when he realizes that it is personal and does not involve the company [(Watkins v. L.M. Berry & Co., 704 F.2d 577, 583 (11th Cir. 1983)]. However, employees may be advised not to make or receive personal calls from specific company’s phones and this implies that their calls may be monitored even if there are personal in nature.

A computer terminal in the workplace is the basic method used by employers to monitor all computer activities. There are different forms of computer monitoring. For instance, computer software can be used to monitor what is currently on the screen and stored in computer hard disks and terminals. Emails and internet usage are also monitored through these devices. Workers whose function involves data entry and word-processing are exposed to keystroke monitoring (Stanton & Stam, 2006). These systems enable the manager to discover how many keystrokes per hour are performed by each employee. Workers are also notified if they are below or above the expected number of keystrokes. The major disadvantage of keystroke monitoring is that it is associated with health problems such as increased levels of stress disabilities, as well as physical problems such as carpal tunnel syndrome. The second computer monitoring techniques enables the employer to know the amount of time a worker spends away from the computer or the idle time at the terminal.

In conclusion, we have already seen that monitoring of employees is allowed in law and there are several regulations which ensure that these policies are not abused. For instance, since computer terminals belong to the employer, he is free to monitor the activities being carried out by the employee. On certain circumstance, employees may have limited rights and protection against some types of electronic monitoring. For instance, union contracts usually limit the employer from monitoring their workers. Moreover, employees in the public sector have minimal rights under the constitution such as the Fourth Amendment which limits unreasonable search and seizure. Although employers have been allowed to carry out electronic mail and voice mail as well as video surveillance, there are some limitations which prevent companies from intruding on the personal privacy of employees.


Bueckert, M. R & University of Manitoba. (2008). Watching Workers: A Critical review of the Law Regarding Electronic Employee Monitoring in Non-unionized Workplaces in Canada. University of Manitoba.

Kizza, J. M. (2010). Ethical and Social Issues in the Information Age. New York: Springer

Nash, J. R. (2009). Workplace Privacy: Proceedings of the New York University 58th Annual Conference on Labor. AH Alphen aan den Rijn: Kluwer Law International

Roebuck, W, (2004). Privacy in E-Business: Promoting Respect, trust and Confidence in your Organization. BSI British Standards Institutions.

Stanton, J. M & Stam, K. R. (2006). The Visible Employee: Using Workplace Monitoring and Surveillance to protect Information Assets-without Compromising Employee Privacy or Trust. New Jersey: Information Today, Inc.

Tavani, H. T. (2009). Ethics and Technology: Controversies, Question, and Strategies for Ethical Computing. Danvers: John Wiley and Sons.

Weckert, J. (2005). Electronic Monitoring in the Workplace: Controversies and Solutions. London: Idea Group Inc.



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