Business people working on digital devices

The Fine Line Between Spying and Legal Employee Monitoring


Employee monitoring is increasing in more than half of big companies, as Fortune reports. Employers are keeping tabs on every movement their staff makes. They use surveillance cameras, web capture tools, GPS tracking devices, and other technologies for monitoring.

But where does spying start and legal employee surveillance stop?

Monitoring Must Be Within Reason

Worker are well aware of the fact that they are under monitoring and scrutiny on company grounds or when using company equipment. It’s part of the job, and perhaps explicit in the company’s policies for employees to have little expectation of privacy.

But keeping track of workers should be done for the company’s growth and in line with state law requirements. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is one example that offers greater transparency and control over the collection and use of personal data of consumers.

The practice of workplace surveillance should still have a limit.

GPS tracking, for instance, is not always appropriate, like in the case of Arias v. Intermex Wire Transfer. All employees of Intermex had to install Xora, an app with a GPS function, so Intermex can track their employees’ location. The problem was that the company tracked even an employee’s off-duty whereabouts. On top of this, every staff had to keep their phone on 24/7 to answer calls from clients.

The surveillance brought on more than discomfort. As such, Intermex was sued for invasion of privacy, unfair business practices, and violating the California Constitution and the California Labor Code. The parties settled out of court.

Keep Your Priorities in Check

Workplace surveillance has its own set of advantages, as long as the methods are compliant with federal and state laws.

For instance, keeping tabs on the activities of employees online and on the phone gives them an idea of their performance. At least they will know what areas need to be improved in the workplace. Companies can use the data to resolve productivity issues.

Business people using their phones

Most of the data gathered from employee monitoring are documented evidence to address several incidents in the workplace. When office supplies are missing, for example, the recorded footage from the surveillance cameras can help employers identify the culprit.

On another note, employee monitoring also boosts customer satisfaction. The practice somehow encourages the staff to focus on serving customers in the best manner possible when they know that the big boss is watching.

But this is what’s worrisome: only one in three employers are “confident” that they’re gathering and using workplace data “responsibly.”

The Cons of Workplace Surveillance

Transparency is good practice. Employers have to draw a line between what works well for all employees and what doesn’t. Consider that not all employees feel comfortable about the surveillance.

Just because they don’t have a choice and they don’t have the final say doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make amendments. Surveillance is helpful in accomplishing the goals of the company. But if it gets in the way of a worker’s productivity, something must be wrong.

Employee monitoring can give the impression that bosses don’t trust their staff. In an interview with The Atlantic, Jason Edward Harrington, an employee at O’Hare International Airport’s luggage-screening checkpoint who quit his job because of intrusive monitoring, said, “If they trusted us, respected us, you could really enjoy the job. But they didn’t.”

Workplace surveillance can help with the company’s performance as long as it isn’t intrusive and exploitative of the employees’ right to privacy.


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