Employee Monitoring: Employer Safeguard or Invasion of Privacy? Employee privacy has been a controversial topic especially with the rise in internet usage, the popularity of social media increasing, and the addition of GPS to mobile devices. With these advances in technology there are numerous ways for employers to monitor their employees’ time at work. According to Evans (2007) as many as eighty percent of the employers, who employ twenty percent of the American population, monitor employees’ telephone conversations, e-mails, and voicemails. Global Positioning Systems (GPS) technology has made tracking the whereabouts of employees easier rather than tracking only information passed between employees and other individuals.
The United States does offer privacy laws to help safeguard employees’ expectations of privacy; however, the laws are formatted around the physical realm such as desk drawers or an employee’s home, not an employee’s computer files or even social networking site (Riego, Abril, & Levin, 2012). It has become apparent that social media is here to stay. Social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter have changed how people communicate in their daily lives and even how organizations do business.
Employers have begun using social networking sites not only to market themselves but also as a human resource tool, making themselves accessible to potential customers and employees alike. Some of the ways employers have begun utilizing social networking include orientation, training, faster innovation of products and services, and improved efficiencies of operations through employee collaboration (Mello, 2012). Although there are clear advantages for employers using social networking sites, there are some murky areas that are becoming increasingly common when using these sites as an instrument to monitor and screen employees as well as applicants.
The Social Norm of Employee Monitoring
In the digital era of today’s working environment, almost all employees are aware their employer is performing some form of monitoring with email monitoring being the most expected. However, the degree of monitoring employers partake in varies. With the lines between personal lives and the work environment blurring, employers are taking advantage of the array of technology they have at their disposal. A heightened awareness of this blurring requires employers to become more probing towards their employees. This becomes apparent with the discovery of 85% of employers recognizing their employees’ use of social networking and personal internet usage during work hours (Mello, 2012). There are many ways that employers utilize applicable technologies, including GPS and social networking sites.
GPS: Advantages and Disadvantages
Employers have a legitimate reason to need and want to monitor their employees. GPS systems can be useful for organizations that have a mobile workforce. Installing GPS systems can be used to help cut cost as well as unauthorized usage of company vehicles (Towns & Cobb, 2012). Most GPS systems not only have the ability of pinpointing locations within 100 feet but also track speed and inform the drivers of the current speed limit. Major cost savings can be seen due to increased productivity of employees due to more effective usage of their time when employees are aware of employers tracking their movements. Likewise, when employees follow the speed limit it can be translated in savings in fuel costs and decreased number of accidents (Towns & Cobb, 2012).
Like most advancements in technology, when there is a positive use there is also a negative misuse. While there is a potential for efficiency to increase with GPS usage, there is also the potential for employers to set irrational time frames and quotas to try to increase efficiency (Towns & Cobb, 2012). This can place unwarranted pressure on employees. Some employees start to be concerned about the lack of privacy with the use of GPS tracking. It is often a necessity for mobile workforces to use their company vehicle to facilitate breaks such as lunch. GPS systems have the potential to disclose personal information about employees when used during such nonworking hours. All travels tend to be recorded with the use of GPS tracking which can lead to an employer knowing detailed information about an employee’s personal life such as preferences or appointments.
To avoid conflict with the use of GPS systems, Towns and Cobbs (2012) suggests taking the following steps. Incorporate GPS usage with other policies by publicizing a policy limiting the use of company property, including electronic devices such as phones and computers as well as vehicles, to work related purposes. Combined with policies, employers should inform their employees of their right to monitor their usage of such property. However, employers should proceed with caution when monitoring with GPS technology by informing employees that GPS systems and tracking are specifically being used.
Obtaining employees’ consent to use tracking systems can assist in preventing employees from feeling scrutinized. Limiting the use of GPS to working hours only will also help employers and employees alike. This can be done by placing a timer or an on/off switch on the device to prevent tracking when an employee is on personal time. Finally, maintain both equipment and records that pertain to GPS systems. Restricting access to these items will ensure privacy for the employee and continue a positive working relationship between employee and employer. The Use and Abuse of Social Networking Sites
Most monitoring of employees is done electronically. Software programs are available to track time, content, and size of data being shared through e-mail or viewed on the internet alleviating the need for manual monitoring. The electronic monitoring that is being conducted manually is primarily done through search engines or social networking sites. According to Mello (2012), an average of 26% of human resource departments admit to using search engines while 18% use social networking sites to screen and disqualify applicants rather than recruit them. Riego, et al. (2012) discovered reports that many employers were requesting job applicants to make login and password information to their social networking sites available during the interview process. This kind of monitoring of employees and applicants is not only detrimental to morale and trust by making individuals feel violated due to lack of privacy but also can leave open a wide range of legal issues.
The American legal system currently does not adequately regulate privacy issues as related to modern technology (Evans, 2007). US law and courts struggle with current privacy laws to incorporate employees’ rights to a degree of privacy within such technologies and employer’s “legitimate interest, rights, and concerns” in obtaining relevant information (Riego, et al., 2012). However, questions as to the motivation of an employer’s searches into private lives of current and potential employees could come into play. When the information obtained from such monitoring is not job performance related, speculation starts to rise on how the information gathered is going to be used.
Despite the cost effectiveness and ease of this type of monitoring, ethical issues also arise. Employers defending the appropriateness of these searches argue on behalf of due diligence and the desire to provide the fit for both applicant and the company (Mello, 2012). They use their right of having a legitimate business interest as grounds for justification due to the cost of recruiting, hiring, and training employees being too high if the working relationship is terminated by either party due to an improper fit. Organizations also claim this use of monitoring on current employees helps expose misconduct in the workplace during work hours.
The US is not the only country to face dilemmas posed by breaches of privacy by employers due to modern technology. However, most countries focus on the dignity of privacy rather than the physical aspect (Reigo, et al., 2012). The dignitarian approach emphasizes the fundamental human right to privacy with respect to their personal life (Evans, 2007). Due to this approach, most employers in other regions of the world have allowed for a certain amount of digital private space in the work environment if properly labeled as such. Some countries have gone so far as to issuing guidelines for social networking background checks, recognizing that the employees and employer are not equally leveraged once information from such searches has been ascertained.
The ability of the US to use foreign regulation on privacy issues as related to technology in order to draft one of its own is feasible. Disclosure to applicants and current employees of social networking monitoring, both before and after the search, should be required just as it is for a criminal and credit background check. Provisions for “clear remedies and preventative measures against such intrusions” (Reigo, et al., 2012) are an immediate necessity as more aspects of employees lives become digital.
Until there are clear rules and regulations put into place concerning privacy issues in the digital age of the work environment, employees and applicants alike should be aware of the potential use of their electronic data. If employees and employers are both willing to respect one another’s needs a mutual understanding can be easily reached. Employers have the right to know how their property is being used and where with the assistance of GPS tracking and software monitoring. Nevertheless, employers also need to recognize employees’ rights to maintain some autonomy in their personal life with concerns to their social media outlets.
Evans, L. (2007). Monitoring technology in the American workplace: would adopting English privacy standards better balance employee privacy and productivity?. California Law Revie, 95(4), 1115-1149. Retrieved from Business Source Complete database. Mello, J.A. (2012). Social media, employee privacy and concerted activity: brave new world or big brother?. Labor Law Journal, 63(3), 203-208. Retrieved from Business Source Complete database. Riego, A.D., Abril, P.S., & Levin, A. (2012).Your Password or Your Paycheck?: A job applicant’s murky right to social media privacy. Journal of Internet Law, 16(3), 2-3. Retrieved from Business Source Complete database. Towns, D.M. & Cobb, L.M. (2012). Notes on: GPS technology; employee monitoring enters a new era. Labor Law Journal, 63(3), 165-173. Retrieved from Business Source Complete database.