take their right to privacy for granted. But most don't realize that this right
doesn't extend into the place where they spend most of their waking hours: their
"There is very little, if any, privacy in the
workplace, particularly in the private sector," says Jeremy
Gruber, legal director of the National
Workrights Institute, an advocacy group for human rights in
the workplace. "Privacy is one of the most-violated principles
in the American workplace. People are aware to a degree how much
monitoring goes on in the workplace, but most individuals are unaware
of how pervasive the lack of privacy is."
Monitoring employees electronically and in other ways
is a growing part of the way American companies do business, according
to the 2005 Electronic Monitoring and Surveillance Survey, conducted
by the American Management Association and the ePolicy
Institute. According to the survey, which was released in May
2005, 76 percent of employers monitor workers' Web connections,
while 50 percent store and monitor employees' computer files.
Other types of
monitoring at work can include:
- keyboard keystroke
- reviewing and storing employee e-mails and instant
- monitoring time spent on the phone, numbers called
and actual taping of conversations
- video surveillance
- satellite technology to monitor use of company cars,
cell phones and pagers
"There are three main reasons employers monitor
employees: legal liability issues, employee productivity and security
breaches," says Nancy Flynn, executive director of the ePolicy
Institute. "For example, e-mail creates a written business
record, and employers are becoming increasingly aware that e-mail
and Internet activity is the electronic equivalent of DNA evidence.
If a company is sued or investigated by a regulatory agency, you
can take it to the bank that e-mail will be investigated and subpoenaed."
Employers are most concerned about employee use of company computers.
This includes e-mail, instant messaging, Web surfing and files stored
on company computers. According to the Electronic Monitoring Survey,
26 percent of employers who participated in the survey have fired
workers for workplace offenses related to the Internet, while 25
percent of employers have fired employees for misuse of e-mail.
While many employers monitor employees' Web surfing, a slightly
smaller number -- 65 percent of those surveyed -- actually use software
to block workers' access to inappropriate Web sites.
Many employers are concerned about their employees'
connecting to inappropriate Web sites, such as those with pornographic
content or that allow employees to gamble online, Flynn says. Productivity
suffers when employees spend too much time online surfing, attending
to personal business or e-mailing friends. Employers also worry
about workers' disclosing trade secrets or proprietary information
over the Internet.
According to a 2004 ePolicy survey, instant messaging
is one of the least-monitored computer activities -- only 6 percent
of employers surveyed at that time retained or archived instant
messages, while 58 percent of employees surveyed use instant messaging
for personal online conversations. "Most instant messaging
takes place via free software tools that employees download and
thus is outside employer firewalls," says Flynn. "We tell
employers that if your employees are doing this, you are handing
information over to outsiders."
Keyboard keystroke monitoring can track key words
typed on a keyboard and can also track how fast employees are typing.
"There is a problem with worker monitoring when it leads to
an oppressive work environment," says Jay Stanley, communications
director for the American Civil Liberties Union Technology and Liberty
Project. "That can happen when employers can monitor things
In such a situation, Stanley notes, employees can feel subtle
or overt pressure to speed up the pace of their work, leading to morale problems.
and video surveillance
Phone surveillance includes:
monitoring and taping employee phone conversations
- blocking certain numbers such as 900 numbers
- monitoring time spent
on the phone
- tracking numbers dialed
and reviewing voice mail
- monitoring conversations between
According to the 2005 surveillance survey, 57 percent
of employers surveyed block unauthorized phone numbers, and 51 percent
monitor the amount of time spent on the phone and the numbers dialed.
More than 80 percent of the employers who monitor these activities
notify employees about what they are doing.