While trying to earn a living, employees can be subject to numerous types of monitoring. These can include drug tests, video-monitoring, email monitoring, phone monitoring and keystroke logging.
Whether you consider it to be right or wrong, electronic surveillance in the workplace is steadily on the rise. According to the American Management Association (AMA), a survey conducted between 1997 and 2001 showed an increase in the amount and types of employer surveillance.
There are both pros and cons to electronic surveillance in the workplace. It can be particularly compelling for an employer to monitor online activity. A business can justify this type of monitoring as a means for gauging and preserving employee productivity. Further, a business might have an interest in prohibiting employees from viewing items of a pornographic nature while in the workplace. Assuming that the business has appropriate policies in place to punish this behavior, then the business may be justified in monitoring to see that it does not occur.
It can also be necessary for a business to monitor employee activity to ensure that a hostile work environment does not exist. Forwarded emails and the sharing in inappropriate URLs could constitute a hostile work environment for the purposes of a harassment charge. It is certainly in the interest of an employer to prevent this from happening.
While a business may be able to justify surveillance in some circumstances, employees are also protected as a matter of law. Communications privacy is protected under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (ECPA). This law holds that an electronic communication cannot be intentionally intercepted. However, an employer may intercept communications so long as notice is given to the employee that they may do so.
Halbert, Terry and Elaine Ingulli (2009). Law and Ethics in the Business Environment. Ohio: Southwestern Cengage, pp. 74-75.