While trying to earn a living, employees are exposed to a wide range of privacy-invading monitoring. This can include drug testing, psychological testing, Internet monitoring, work phone and cellular phone monitoring, E-mail monitoring and videotaping. While employers may have a legitimate interest in some employee monitoring, excessive monitoring can diminish morale, add stress to the employee, and raise questions of legality.
In the year 2003, 92 percent of employers surveyed were admittedly conducting some type of electronic surveillance (Bentley, 2003). The types of workplace monitoring include videotaping, cell phone monitoring and email scanning, just to name a few. Not all employers actually disclose the extent of the workplace monitoring that is taking place (Lane, 2004).
To an extent, information about what employees are doing during their working hours is necessary to further the success of a business. If an employee spends excessive amounts of time surfing the Internet, writing and reading personal emails, playing computer games or talking on the phone, a company will suffer the loss of productivity. To this end, a certain amount of workplace monitoring may be justified. However, as justified as these actions may be, there is potential for workplace monitoring to get completely out of control, especially in terms of modern technological advances.
Equally concerning is the correlation between workplace monitoring and at-will employment. Because an employer at-will can terminate an employee at any place and time for any (or lack of any) reason, an employee can be fired based on surveillance findings with little or no due process of law. This concern, coupled with the general lack of privacy protections for workers in the United States, makes it very troubling to justify the vast amount of surveillance that takes place in the workplace.
Unfortunately, laws that protect privacy in the workplace have been lackluster thus far. In 1986, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) was passed. Although the law was designed to enhance protections for workers, the law is largely viewed as weak and filled with loopholes for employers (National Workrights Institute, 2007). There needs to be a legislative push to create laws which balance the rights of an employer to protect its business interests with the civic rights of an employee to some measure of privacy and dignity in the workplace.
Lane, Frederick (2004). The Naked Employee: How technology is compromising workplace privacy. New York: AMACOM.
“Privacy Under Siege: Electronic Monitoring in the Workplace.” (2007). National Workrights Institute. Electronic Privacy Information Center. Retrieved September 21, 2010 from http://www.epic.org/privacy/workplace/e-monitoring.pdf.
“Survey: ‘˜You’ve Got Mail and the Boss Knows” (2003). Center for Business Ethics at Bentley College.