In today's information age computers are used all around the world. People everywhere are on computers using the internet to playing games, sending e-mails, chatting, using social networks, and many other things. Companies are using computers and the internet to aid in conducting business all across the globe. One company can have a business meeting with other companies in almost any part of the world, from their own office.
With the huge amounts of information being sent all over the world, and with all the different things one can do on computers, more and more companies are now monitoring their employee's. Monitoring is nothing new, it has been done for years. With today's new high tech ways to communicate information, there also came new high tech ways to monitor it. Many of employee's believe it is an invasion of privacy to be monitored. The purpose of this paper is to take a look at some of the conflicts employers and employees have because of workplace monitoring and to see if it is an invasion of privacy.
In this information age things are changing so rapidly and technology is moving so fast, that the policymaker's can't keep up with all of the technical advances. Some employees don't even know they are being monitored. On the other hand, employers feel they have a right to monitor its employees and protect its interest. In this paper we will examine both sides to find out if employee monitoring is an invasion of privacy, or is it the employer's right.
Different ways employers are monitoring
The days of privacy in the workplace are long gone, probably never to return. With today's rapid pace of technologies, employers are monitoring their employee's telephone calls, computer use, e-mails, voice mails, and internet use. Employers can also monitor cell phones, pagers and text messages if its company equipment. Some companies use GPS systems to monitor where their vehicles are going. There are different software's available that employer's can use to track every keystroke someone makes on the computer, and record each website page that is visited. Employers are monitoring just about anything they want too at their companies. According to privacyrights.org, "Such monitoring is virtually unregulated" (p. 1).
Some companies use video cameras to watch their employees to make sure they are being productive. Video cameras are also used by companies to keep up with their inventory and prevent theft. Companies can use video cameras just about anywhere they want too, except for restrooms where people expect privacy. For unionized worker's it is up to the labor union to negotiate if video cameras are to be used and to what extent. If the video camera also records audio, then the company could get in trouble because of the wiretap laws (privacyrights.org, 1993). According to privacyrights.org, "Federal law does not prohibit audio recording of phone conversations as long as one party on the call consents to recording. Most states have extended this law to include recording in-person conversations." (p. 1).
The majority of companies who are utilizing computers at work, are monitoring them to make certain they are being used for only work. Companies are watching where employees go on the internet, and many are opening employee's e-mails. There are different types of software that can used to continually monitor computers, and can make reports of every page that was visited, and every key that was typed. Keystroke scanning makes it very easy to obtain any password you type, if they want to open your site. There's software's that will allow the employer to see what's on your screen, scan the hard disk, and tell exactly how much time was spent at each site . Employers are even monitoring their employee's social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, but attorneys are advising against it (Phoenix.bizjournal.com, 2009).
Another way employers are monitoring is by eavesdropping on their employee's telephone conversations. Employers can tell how well their employees work with customers and also can tell if the phone is being used personal business instead of company business. There are very limited laws to give any privacy to the employee. According to Camardella (2003), "the American Civil Liberties Union estimates that employers "eavesdrop" on some 400 million telephone calls annually."(p. 1)
Company equipment surveillance
Are your text messages private? Ask former mayor of Detroit Kwame Kilpatrick and I'm sure he will tell you no. Mr. Kilpatrick went to jail for perjury because text messages proved he lied under oath. Two Detroit police officers filed a law suit against the city of Detroit because they said former mayor fired them unlawfully. The former mayor said under oath that he did not fire the officers and said he did not have an intimate affair with his chief of staff. Local newspaper the Detroit Free Press obtained the text messages from Sky Tel Communication Company. The newspaper said that they had a right to the messages because the former mayor's pager was the property of Detroit and was pay for by the city (detnews.com, 2008, December). Kilpatrick appealed the release of the text messages all the way to Michigan State Supreme Court, but the court ruled that the messages were the property of the city of Detroit so they were admitted as evidence. Well the Detroit police officers won a large settlement from the city for $8 million and the former mayor went to jail for perjury, and he also has to pay the city a million dollars in restitution.
So it would seem like if someone is using their company's pager or cell phone, that the company has the right read their text messages, not so. In another case in the city of Ontario, California the courts ruled for the employee. An Ontario police went over the allowed amount of characters on his department issued pager, so the chief wanted to know was his messages all work related. So he got transcripts of the officer's messages from the communications company. He found out that the officer had sent personal messages to his wife and others, some with sexual content. The officer sued the city of Ontario under the Fourth Amendment, illegal search and seizure. He won his case and this case could possibly help other cases similar in the future (informationweek.com, 2008, June 19).
Some reasons why employers monitor
Employers have several different reasons why they monitor their employee's. Many employees' still think that their e-mails at work are private. It may seem like an invasion of privacy, but monitoring is perfectly legal (Turri, Maniam, Hynes, 2008). With the exception of a few state's employers aren't required to tell employees that they are being monitored (Turri, Maniam, Hynes, 2008). If you are at work on the clock and are using company resources, then you can be monitored. A few reasons why employers are monitoring are to protect their computer systems, help prevent the company from getting lawsuits, to protect intellectual property and trade secrets from being embezzled, and to reduce productivity losses.
Protect Computer systems
Companies do not want to get viruses in their computer systems because employees are going who knows where surfing the internet. A virus could be very expensive for a company to get rid of, and could cost in down time or lose files.
Law Suits protection
How can a company make money when they have to fight a lawsuit because one of their employees' got caught looking at child porn and chatting with children online from work? Not only can the employee go to jail, but the employer can get big trouble too. What if someone decides to e-mail joke to a few people, but one or all of them take the joke as being offensive. The company could be sued for creating a hostile work environment. Or maybe someone decides to send an offensive e-mail of sexual nature that leads to sexual harassment suit. Most employers just can't afford to trust their employees enough not cost them a law suit. If an employee comes to work each day and does their job, then what difference would being monitored make. It would only affect those who didn't want to work.
I believe that companies do need to protect sensitive or secret information from being compromised. Imagine you working on a big project for a long time that you plan to patent and you find out someone else patents the exact idea right before you can submit it. It doesn't have to be one of their employee's trying to gain intellectual property; it could be the competition using a hacker. Some companies also want to protect themselves against thief to keep thief to keep assets safe. I can definitely see the need for some type of security.
Is workplace monitoring legal?
These days word privacy is starting to be meaningless. I think we lose a little privacy every time we surf the web. The Bill of Rights and the Constitution gives very limited rights to privacy, but the government doesn't assure employees of any rights in the private sector (Camardella, 2003). One of the first e-mail cases to go court in 1991 resulted in the termination of two employees because they sent sexual type e-mails, both men had signed a letter with the company's policy that stated computers were for work only (Camardella). According to Camardella, (2003) "the court held the employees had no reasonable expectation of privacy in their e-mails." (p. 4). The courts have ruled that companies can be liable for someone on their computers doing harm to others, so they must give the companies a chance to prevent it.
Video cameras have been on the scene for quite a while now; I think everyone knows they are legal except for bathrooms, or locker rooms. Well you think not bathrooms or locker rooms, but actually they can if the employee can't prove to have a reasonable expectation to privacy. In one court case an employee sued the college he worked for, saying his rights under the Fourth Amendment violated by monitoring the locker room with a video camera (Camardella, 2003). In this case according to Camardella "the court found the plaintiffs did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the locker area because the locker room was not enclosed" (p. 9).
We will now take a look at what some employees think about getting monitored at their workplace. There was a survey done that involved 154 interviews with employees from different companies who give their opinions of workplace monitoring. The interviews were done by 81 college students at different locations in California. All of the students asked the same questions. From the answers it was learned that 74% were informed they were being monitored. For the reasons why their employers monitored, 71% said it was a way to handle the disobedient. Only 28% said that it was an invasion of privacy. The majority accepted monitoring as being necessary and acceptable, but thought employer should have boundaries not to cross.
Is employee monitoring an invasion of privacy? Yes ethically speaking, but from what I have found in my research, employers have every right to do so. After all they do have to protect their interests and protect their companies from law suits. Monitoring may help some employee's because now the person who was not doing their share of the work will. If you are the type of person that comes to work to work, then it really should not matter if you are being monitored or not. There are a few laws to help employees, but for the most part they are out of date with the times. So right now most laws favor the employer. Another option I found while researching is to block out the internet, sites, games, or whatever you don't want them to use. Employer's should have a policy in place and signed by everyone letting it be know, that they are monitoring. If you let the employee's know what you are doing and why you are doing it, then that could help to keep the morale up (Allen, Myria W., Coopman, Stephanie J., Hart, Joy L., Walker, Kasey L., 2007).
- Turri, Anna M., Maniam, Balasundram, Hynes, Geraldine E. (2008, December).
- Are They Watching? Corporate Surveillance of Employees' Technology Use.
- Sunnucks, M. (2009, September 21). Attorneys say companies can monitor employee use of sites, but they may face repercussions. Retrieved from http://www.Phoenix.bizjournals.com
- Egan, P., Josar, D., & MacDonald, C. (2008, December 29). Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick shamed by text messages. Retrieved from http://www.detnews.com
- Camardella, Matthew J. (2003). Electronic monitoring in the workplace.
- Workplace Privacy and Employee Monitoring. (1993, March). Retrieved from http://www.privacyrights.org
- Allen, Myria W., Coopman, Stephanie J., Hart, Joy L., Walker, Kasey L. (2007).
- Workplace Surveillance and Managing Privacy Boundaries.
- Jones, K.C. (2008, June 19). Court Rules Employee Text Messages Are Private. Retrieved from http://informationweek.com