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Employee Monitoring Law

Employee Privacy Laws

Employer Monitoring Employee

Employee Privacy

Email Privacy
Privacy Law
Employers Monitoring Employees: Privacy and the Law
Employee monitoring is becoming increasingly common in a variety of workplaces. In a 2007 survey conducted by the American Management Association and the ePolicy Institute, two-thirds of employers reported that they monitored the websites that their employees visited in order to prevent inappropriate surfing. Another 65% of employers said that they had software installed to prevent employees from accessing certain websites. This represents a 27% increase over the first time this question was asked in 2001. Over 40% of employers also said they monitor employees' emails. Clearly, employers have begun to make supervising their employees' online habits a priority.
Employee Privacy is Not Guaranteed
Many people assume that they must be entitled to some sort of employee privacy or protected by employee privacy laws, but in fact, most cases brought against an employer monitoring employees' Internet habits have been decided in favor of the employer. In most states, there is not even an employee monitoring law that states that employees must be told if they are being monitored.
Monitoring Internet Usage
Employers can monitor employees' Internet usage by installing software on employee workstations that keeps a record of what employees did on the computer. They can use this software to see both what is on the screen and what is stored on the computer's hard drive. Employers mainly install this kind of software to ensure that employees are not using the Internet excessively for personal reasons and that they are adhering to codes of professional conduct while at work.

There is not currently a privacy law that prevents employers from monitoring employees' Internet habits. Because employers pay for their employees' time and provide the machines on which they work, they have the right to make sure that their employees are using their time appropriately and productively. Moreover, many lawyers advise that employers monitor employees' Internet usage to protect themselves from lawsuits. If an employee is using a computer inappropriately, an employer can be found liable for not taking steps to prevent this misuse.

Employer monitoring of employees' email is very common, especially when the email account is provided by the company and is supposed to be used for work purposes. Because the employer owns the email system, they have the right to read any messages sent through it. An employer can even monitor an employee's emails that are sent through an outside email provider, such as Gmail or Hotmail, if they are sent from a company computer. An employer must stop reading an email message as soon as they realize that it is solely of a personal nature, but they are still allowed to track the amount of time spent writing and reading such a communication.

Do Employers have to Tell Employees that they are Being Monitored?
In most states, there is no privacy law requiring employers to tell their employees when their email and computer usage are being monitored. The 2007 survey by the American Management Association and the ePolicy Institute, however, showed that 70-90% of employers do tell employees when their activities are being monitored. Although employee privacy laws do not require this notification, letting employees know that they are being monitored can help them regulate their own Internet usage in order to avoid breaching company policies. Many employers let their employees know about the monitoring that they are doing either through a section in an employee handbook, a clause in their contract, or by posting signs in the office.

If an employer asserts that an employee is entitled to email privacy or tells its employees that it will not monitor their actions online, the employer is generally bound to keep its word because it has assured its employees that they have a reasonable expectation of privacy. If, however, the employer does not mention whether or not it monitors its employees, then employees should assume that they are being monitored.

Variations by State and Workplace
Laws restricting an employer monitoring employees vary by state, so it is important to see if an employee monitoring law exists in the state in which you work. California, for example, requires that employers alert employees if they are monitoring their phone conversations. This state also offers some additional protections for employees, but generally still allows employers to monitor employees' activities when using company equipment. Additionally, employees in many states are protected from employer monitoring in certain circumstances. These usually include employees who are part of a union or those who work in the public sector.

Across the U.S., employee monitoring is becoming increasingly common. Employers recognize the ways in which new technology can help them make sure that their employees are being productive and are putting this technology to work. Employees, therefore, should take care to behave in appropriate ways whenever they use company computers in order to avoid negative consequences for the misuse of company resources.