Spied On at Work? Things to Know About Employee Monitoring

If it feels as if someone is constantly looking over your shoulder at work, you might not be totally paranoid: technology has given employers the ability to monitor your emails, phone calls, text messages, Web usage, health and even your mood.

Although more a quarter of tech employees at big firms say that their companies go to unreasonable lengths to spy on them, our laws haven’t caught up with the latest forms of monitoring, according to Paula Brantner, senior advisor to Workplace Fairness: “Basically, anything that relates to security, theft or efficiency is fair game.”

Under the circumstances, you need to look out for yourself. Here are some key things to know about employee monitoring.

Assume You’re Being Watched

You should just assume that your employer is monitoring (and perhaps recording) any and all activity that takes place on company-issued devices, advised Nancy Flynn, founder and executive director of The ePolicy Institute.

While some states have enacted laws that require disclosure or limit an employer’s ability to monitor employees, the courts have consistently held that employees have no reasonable expectations of privacy when it comes to exchanges that take place on company-owned computer systems or devices… including emails that are sent and received via private external email accounts, Flynn explained.

To be on the safe side, always conduct personal business on a privately owned device during non-working hours. “Just be careful not to mix business with pleasure,” Flynn added. “Because if you accidentally text a client or co-worker from your ‘purely personal’ device, you are creating a business record that can be reviewed by your employer.”

Read Before You Sign

Because you can be disciplined or terminated for unintentional violations, always read the company’s policies and employee handbook, especially before using a personal device on the job or posting on social media.

However, since small companies or startups may not have formal policies, be sure to ask about mechanisms, tools and “unwritten rules” your employer might be using to monitor and evaluate your activity.

For instance, in some companies you can be fired for accessing prohibited websites or apps during working hours, or engaging in activities for your side-business from your personal mobile or tablet. Many agreements give employers the right to review and remove data from your device when you leave the company.

Plus, your personal data could be reviewed or subpoenaed in the course of investigating a client or co-worker complaint, security breech, lawsuit or similar issue, even after you leave the company.

Know Your Rights

Before you agree to wear an activity tracker or a smart ID badge that may monitor your body, including how often you leave your cubicle, know your rights and find out how your data will be used and protected.

“Consult with an attorney if necessary to find out what protections are available, especially when it comes to new forms of monitoring,” Brantner advised. She also provided this helpful overview of employees’ rights regarding workplace monitoring.

For example, some 57 percent of employers plan to track employee movements and even biometric data, according to research from Gartner (in some places, it’s already happening; a vending company recently made news when it microchipped half of its employees). While a few states have passed legislation to enhance protections for biometric information or that prohibit microchipping, employees don’t enjoy many rights when it comes to this type of monitoring.

Social media is one area where many states have given employees expanded privacy rights. For instance, your boss or a recruiter may not ask for the password to your social media accounts. However, you can still be fired or disciplined for posting something negative about the company or your co-workers in a public forum.

According to a survey by CareerBuilder, nearly half of employers (48 percent) monitor employees’ online presence once they’re hired—and 10 percent do it daily. Furthermore, a third of employers (34 percent) have found content online that caused them to reprimand or fire an employee.

Your boss may be watching your every move, and there is nothing you can do about it—at least for now. Act accordingly.