You work hard to protect your company. Your buildings are safe and secure and all your important data and business information are backed up and shielded from the outside.
But, what are you doing in-house? Are you monitoring your employees, keeping a close eye on how they’re utilizing the technologies you provide for them? If you’re not, your business could be at risk.
Most employers don’t want to think about it, but employees can and do steal confidential information, often taking it to a competitor or selling it to the highest bidder. Not only that, sometimes employees don’t even realize that the information they have access to is confidential. Then, all it takes is a simple slip of the tongue or a seemingly innocuous comment in an e-mail or on a social networking site and your confidential business information is out there in the public for all to see.
“Employers should be monitoring every type of electronic media that employees use, including computers, smartphones and even social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter,” says Jennifer Coon-Leeper, CSP, a major accounts manager for Ashton Staffing, Inc. “Identify what information needs to be protected and who has access to that information. From there, you can craft an effective employee monitoring policy and ensure that all your data are safe and secure.”
Smart Business spoke with Coon-Leeper about employee monitoring, what can and should be monitored and how a company can craft an effective employee monitoring policy.
Why should employers monitor employees’ online activity?
The No. 1 reason is to ensure that the employee is doing a good job and being productive. With the amount of access to the Internet, it is very easy for an employee to spend hours updating a Facebook page, shopping or exchanging personal e-mails. Employers monitor online activity to ensure that the employee getting paid to work is actually working in a timely and efficient manner.
Other reasons to monitor an employee’s online activity are to maintain confidentiality and limit employer liability for employee misconduct. Employers don’t want to worry about company information getting into the wrong hands or any lawsuit stemming from an inappropriate e-mail sent by an employee.
Many employers also monitor online activity to make sure their systems are being used according to policy and are not overloaded with viruses.
What should employers monitor, and do they have to inform the employee?
While controversial, employers, with good cause and under certain limitations, can monitor e-mail, Internet, social networks, etc., without the employees’ knowledge or consent. Although some employees feel that monitoring invades privacy, most federal laws do not support these concerns.
With that in mind, it is recommended for employers to check their state laws, as they may vary. Employers should also create a written agreement for employees to sign when they are hired. This agreement is used to inform employees that all online activity will be monitored.
Do employees have any expectation of privacy when using employer-provided devices?
Most employees understand the need for a monitoring policy. However, many do not want their every move micromanaged and tracked. When using an employer-provided device, it is important for the employee to understand that the device is the property of the company and is and should be used for business only. Anything that is not business-related should be handled after business hours on their own personal devices.
How should an employee-monitoring policy be crafted?
Employers looking to craft a monitoring policy should keep in mind that the policy should be reasonable. Restricting all online activity is unrealistic and practically impossible to enforce. The most effective policy would involve monitoring online activity but would also allow employees the freedom to work without feeling ‘Big Brother’ is watching over them.
Any policy that is created by the employer should:
- Explain the business-related reason for the monitoring.
- Discuss what is considered to be permissible work-related activity and what is considered prohibited, inappropriate activity.
- Address the consequences of violating the policy, up to and including termination.
Finally, all employees must sign the policy. Acknowledging and signing the policy will help to prevent future issues.
What legal rights do employers have when it comes to monitoring their employees?
Most courts have ruled in favor of the employer when it comes to monitoring employee online activity. Whether they have a written policy or not, employers typically have the right as long as they have a business-related reason to do so. That said, employers should always make sure they are up to date on their state’s regulations and laws.
Jennifer Coon-Leeper, CSP, is a major accounts manager for Ashton Staffing, Inc. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or (770) 419-1776.