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Can My Employer Monitor My Web Surfing or Emails at Work?

Absolutely, yes. And what’s worse, they probably are.

Employee surveillance has never been easier thanks to advances in technology and the emergence of computers and the Internet. Employers are taking advantage like never before.

According to a recent survey conducted by the American Management Association and The ePolicy Institute, two-thirds of the 304 employers surveyed said that they monitor their employees’ Internet connections. Over 40% said they monitor each of the following: their employees’ emails, the time spent and phone numbers called by employees using company phones, time spent by employees at their computers and/or their employees’ computer keystrokes. Some employers (7%) even use video surveillance to make sure their employees are doing their jobs, while 9% say they monitor their employees’ voicemail messages. 17% said they assign an individual to manually read and review employee emails.

The bottom line: it’s very likely your employer is watching you and every single thing you do at your workstation.

Employers are also firing employees based on misconduct discovered through electronic surveillance. Nearly a third of employers said they had fired workers for email misuse, including offensive language, excessive personal use, breach of confidentiality, etc. Nearly a third also said they had fired workers for Internet misuse including viewing pornography, excessive personal use, etc.

It appears the growing role emails play in lawsuits and regulatory investigations is at least partially to blame for the rise in employee surveillance. However, employers also seem to view surveillance as a tool to keep employee productivity high. What did the Italian philosopher Machiavelli say, “It’s better to be feared than loved”? Or maybe a quote from George Orwell’s 1984 is more appropriate here. Brazil, anyone?

Luckily, most employers (70% to 90%) notify their employees ahead of time that their activities are being monitored. For instance, 71% tell employees they are monitoring their emails. Of course, that means many employers don’t warn their employees of all, or even any, of their surveillance activities.

Could your employer be one of them? Better to be safe than sorry. If you have personal errands you need to conduct on your computer or phone at work, keep it to a minimum. Otherwise, you might find yourself looking for a new job. And NEVER communicate with your attorney (if you have one) from your work computer or phone. Otherwise, your communications may not be protected by attorney-client privilege.

4 Comments

  1. Julie D on July 13, 2017 at 6:51 pm

    I find it hard to believe an email between me and my attorney would not be considered attorney/client privileged. In fact, I recently read a case where an employee sued and won over the same.

  2. Barbara Elaine Leon on May 9, 2015 at 2:59 pm

    I had a company do this i think, I had use to post all sorts of oddball stuff from ” midget porn to naked grannies giving poney rides in Germany, and those life magazine photos of topless aboriginals haha.” As to which the photos and conversations seemed to keep the heads at work “very quiet” the next day. hahahaha Be-nouned to them figuring the jig was up. I also would look specifically for lookalikes of my bosses to add to the weirdness-Ya, I put some knarly stuff online for the snoops to view. I was then called later a lesbian, what kind of woman are you? A freak, you name it. I knew they were following along all long. I would tell them ” why do you think this of me?” In which then never could respond honestly. And yes it is an invasion of privacy.

  3. Kareen Lewis on August 3, 2011 at 8:07 pm

    nice

  4. Martin Dack on January 18, 2011 at 3:21 am

    You have shared nice article on this burning concern for any office. Thanks to New technologies that make it possible for employers to monitor many aspects of their employees’ jobs, especially on telephones, computer terminals, through electronic and voice mail, and when employees are using the Internet.

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