Computer Software

Is it legal for my boss to monitor my activities at work?
Answered by Meredith Bower and Planet Green
  •  Meredith Bower

    Meredith Bower

  • Planet Green

    Planet Green

  1. If you are hired to do a job, it is your responsibility to do the work. It's your manager's job to make sure you do it properly. In order for your boss to know if you are doing the best work possible, he or she must monitor your on-the-clock activities. It might be unpalatable, but it's part of a supervisor's job.

    Furthermore, many jobs have a set of employee rules and regulations about conducting personal business on professional time. But not everyone follows the rules, again forcing companies to monitor their employees.

    Many experts agree that the biggest area of abuse at work centers around the computer. Computer abuse is not just an issue of lost productivity, it may also lead to breaches in data security. A 2007 survey by the American Management Association (AMA) revealed that 66 percent of employers monitor Internet connections, 65 percent block inappropriate Web sites, 28 percent have fired employees for e-mail misuse and 30 percent have terminated workers for Internet misuse. That's a lot of monitoring of keystrokes, content and time spent at the computer. While only a handful of states require businesses to inform employees of such monitoring, 83 percent of employers alert their workers about their surveillance practices [source: AMA]. While that is noble, the AMA encourages companies to educate and remind their employees more regularly about the policies that affect them.

    Employers are not only monitoring computer activity, they keep an eye on phone use and install video surveillance to prevent theft, violence and sabotage. A few businesses also employ Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) technology to track company vehicles.

    For the most part, all this monitoring is legal. So, if you want to keep your job and your privacy, consider these tips:

    • Don't use company e-mail for private messages.
    • Always assume messages will be shared.
    • Keep your passwords private.
    • Don't visit sensitive Web sites at work.
    • Turn off your computer when you are away from your desk.
    • Use a cell phone for personal calls.
    • Limit personal calls and personal business while at work [source: Lorenz].

    If you are still not sure if your employer's monitoring practices are appropriate, you can visit the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

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  2. In the United States, courts tend to side with employers in cases involving workplace surveillance, but these laws can be contradictory. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) divides electronic communications into two categories. "Communication in transit" is protected similarly to voice communications -- monitoring it is illegal. But "stored communications"-- e-mail stored on a server -- can be accessed freely. Courts have ruled that e-mail sitting on a server is not in transit, so it's not protected. This contradicts the law regarding postal mail, as well as the U.S. Supreme Court's recognition of an implied right to privacy. However, as an employee, you have no right to privacy of e-mail created on company equipment.

    More answers from Planet Green »

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