Employee Monitoring In Today’s Workplace
In today’s workplace, office employees are connected to the Internet through a variety of devices such as their computers, cell phones, tablets, and other gadgets. According to Staff Monitoring Solutions (SMS), these employees spend an average of “21 hours per week online at the office, as opposed to 9.5 hours at home.” The Internet has given cyber-slackers a whole new venue to chip away at a company’s productivity. SMS estimates these cyber-slackers can account for up to a 40% loss in productivity annually. Even more alarming is a recent Gallup survey that found “70% of American workers are not engaged or actively disengaged. Gallup estimates that these actively disengaged employees cost the U.S. between $450 billion to $550 billion in lost productivity.” In order to curb “under-time” in the workplace, some organizations are being proactive and in addition to creating technology usage policies, they are also employing the use of software in order to limit and/or monitor their employee’s capabilities online.
Employers have added the Internet and Email use to their list of items to be regulated in the workplace (i.e. telephone, office supplies, equipment, etc.). Generally, employers can monitor email and Internet activity when these activities are conducted with the employer’s equipment, particularly when a specific policy is in place concerning the proper usage of the technology. Employee monitoring does raise privacy and confidentiality issues, therefore it is advisable for employers to determine whether or not there exists a reasonable expectation of privacy with the usage of Internet and email at their workplaces. If such an expectation exists, courts may find that the monitoring of the Internet and email by the employer are a violation of privacy. When applicable, employers should use their employee handbooks to present technology usage policies in such a way that employees are very clear about their rights and responsibilities when creating, accessing, and disseminating, information from the work environment.
An important factor to keep in mind as an employer is that in most cases, the organization is accountable for the misconduct of its employees. Therefore, offensive messages, illegal downloads, and other questionable online behavior can become a liability risk for a company under federal anticorruption and corporate governance laws.
Many employers have been able to outfit their technological equipment with specialized software designed to prevent or limit access to certain areas of the Internet. Employee Internet Management (EIM) and Internet Blocking software are good examples of programs designed to monitor how much time users spend on the web and can even block access to certain sites and/or downloads. Traditional Internet filters work by simply blocking or allowing access, but the latest EIM software solutions have emerged as the only alternative to achieving a balance between professional and personal employee Internet use in the workplace. Once installed and set up according to the company’s particular Internet access policy, EIM software avoids both employee backlash and web misuse. As employee Internet access has become standard in the last decade, the original goal of Internet filters and Internet access control products was to block all non-work-related web access. However, as both the workplace and the Internet evolved, employee Internet management software has also evolved to accomplish the unique needs of changing office environments.
Because the Internet is both a benefit and a distraction, many EIM products now offer flexible management options, allowing organizations to accommodate both employee and employer web concerns. Future trends include even more flexibility and adaptability.
With greater connectivity comes greater responsibility, both as an employer and as an employee. Employees should be aware of any applicable organizational policies on the use of technology resources at their organizations and should adhere to an acceptable form of behavior when accessing these resources. However, as an employer it is important to take a more proactive role in monitoring employee use of technological resources in accordance with applicable local, state, or federal laws. Failing to do so responsibly can be costly for organizations who risk facing privacy violation lawsuits, or other costly litigation (dependent on the liability risk the organization failed to manage). In addition to reducing litigation costs, a more proactive approach to employee monitoring can help organizations reduce the cost associated with lost productivity.
 Websense, SmartFilter, and Pearl Echo-Suite are examples of software currently available to organizations for their use in monitoring employee online activities.
 There are no federal statutes which regulate private employers on broad workplace privacy issues; however, federal laws do regulate specific aspects of privacy that arise during the employment relationship. For example, the Federal Privacy Act restricts the collection of information and regulates access to information for federal employees and covers private employers who have federal contracts requiring specific recordkeeping obligations. The Federal Wiretapping Act/Electronic Communications Privacy Act prohibits the intentional interception or disclosure of any wire, oral, or electronic communication where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. There are two exceptions: (1) if one party to the communication has consented, electronic monitoring is allowed, and (2) a business use exemption permits telephone extension equipment used to monitor communications within the ordinary course of business.