Electronic Monitoring in the Workplace

Source: Kevin J. Smith, Rachel J. Tischler, Employment Relations Today, Volume 42 Issue 1, Spring 2015
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Employers and employment attorneys alike have been concerned about the legal limits of electronic monitoring since before many of us had personal e-mail accounts. And since that time, the amount of work done “online”—through the Internet, intranet, e-mail, remote computing, and personal devices—has increased exponentially. This shift has been accompanied by an equal increase in the availability of monitoring technology, making employer surveillance of employees cheaper and more accessible. In the past decade, this has been further complicated by the proliferation of employees’ use of personal electronic devices to conduct business. Accordingly, there are widespread concerns about employee efficiency, focus, and information, as well as product security. Employees’ telephone, computer, mobile device, e-mail, voice mail, and social media accounts, in addition to all of the files and data stored therein, have all found themselves under employer scrutiny at one time or another, and often the results of that surveillance have been used in termination decisions or employment litigation. One form of conflict emerges when trying to balance the safety and integrity of an employer’s data and computer systems with employees’ expectations of and rights to privacy. Another conflict can arise when an employer’s enforcement of its policies on personal electronic devices, computer and Internet usage, and employees’ use of the devices for nonbusiness purposes—however innocent—leads to disciplinary action.