Saturday, August 13, 2011
Essay on Employee Monitoring in the Workplace
Employers monitor the activities and behavior of their employees in the workplace. This is a fact. Through the use of a variety of technologies employers are able to know whether the employees are devoting their work hours for the employees or whether they employees are doing something else. The existing technology includes the use of software that will allow the employers to know the websites being accessed by the employee. It may also include the use of CCTV cameras so that the employers may be able to observe the activities of their employees. However, the employees dislike being monitored. For various reasons, they do not want their employers to know what they are doing. They consider the act of employee monitoring as a hateful act that they even consider it as a violation of their most cherished rights and liberties. In fact, they even argue that the act of employee monitoring violates their right to privacy. However, employee monitoring is not simply a curtailment of the rights and liberties of the people. Rather, its purpose is to ensure that the interest of the employer is protected against any and all acts of the employee during work hours. As such, employee monitoring is an option that belongs to the employer so that he may protect himself against any liability.
Privacy is defined as the “ability of an individual or group to keep their lives and personal affairs out of public view, or to control the flow of information about themselves.” Though it is not specifically mentioned in the United States Constitution, the Supreme Court in a number of cases has affirmed that we have a right to privacy.
The right to privacy against government officials is a well-settled rule. It protects the public against unreasonable intrusion by government authorities. In effect, they cannot, in the absence of any court order, monitor the phone conversations, open email messages, or even track web usages of the public.
The workplace however, is a different issue. Inside the workplace, the government is no longer involved. It is the employers who determine the policies to be implemented inside the workplace. The employer decides the uniform, the work hours, the rules and any and all policy related to the workplace.
It is true that the number of employers who subject their employees to surveillance is increasing. According to the "2005 Electronic Monitoring & Surveillance Survey" conducted by the American Management Association (AMA), “most of the 526 employers surveyed indicated that they subjected their employees to electronic surveillance in some way, shape or form. For example, 76% monitored Web site visits, 55% monitored email messages and 50% monitored computer files.” (“Employee Workplace Privacy Rights”)
However, there are reasons why employers monitor the activities of their employees. Firstly, practicality demands that an employer should monitor the activities of his employees. Employers believe that employee who knows that he is being watched and monitored by his employee is more likely to complete his work. It is common knowledge that employees do not devote the full 8 hours a day for company-related work. There will be times when the employee during work hours will leave his workstation or he will stay in his workstation and visit nonwork-related websites. This happens even if the company pays the employee to perform his work for entire 8 hours. When this happens, it takes an employee longer time to finish his work thereby incurring additional expense for the company in the form of electricity, overtime pay and reduced productivity. This will be avoided if the company will monitor the activities of its employee.
One of the potential issues every employer must face is the possibility that he may be held liable for not acting swiftly on sexual harassment complaints. The law against discrimination nowadays is very strict as it imposes responsibilities on the employer to maintain a discrimination-free work environment. The law requires the companies to immediately conduct thorough investigations of sexual harassment complaints to avoid liability. There was a case in
wherein the jury awarded the amount of more than $7M to a legal secretary harassed by a male partner in a law firm for failing to act swiftly on a sexual harassment complaint. (Gerald D. Bloch, 1995, p.1) If the company only conducted its investigations upon learning of the violation against sexual harassment laws then they would not have been liable for $7M for punitive damages. Thus to eliminate the potential risks of lawsuit based on discrimination it would be best for the company to adopt a policy of monitoring of employee conduct inside the workplace. San Francisco
The possibility that an employee will make copies of customer lists and other company-owned information is not remote. This could be done in many different ways such as by making photocopies of documents, attaching these files to email messages and sending them, or inserting a USB disk inside the computer for the purpose of copying the sensitive information. Employers lose important clients and they give away sensitive business information because of these activities of employees. A constant monitoring of employee activities will help prevent an employee for performing these unethical and illegal activities.
Employee monitoring is not an arbitrary and illegal act of the employer. It is borne out of the need to protect the employers from liability which the law imposes upon it because of acts of its employees. Because the employers are considered liable for failure to enact policies that will prevent the employees from engaging in unethical and illegal act it is only rightful and just for the employers to be allowed to monitor the activities of their employees to restrict them from violating existing company policy. In the same manner, employers pay the employees for the entire work hours. As such, it is the right of the employees to determine whether the employees are devoting their time for the company.