Is it Legal and Ethical To Use Employee Computer Monitoring Software?
There is no question that the Digital age has provided both employees and employers with varied tools for doing business, such as office software, social and professional online networks, etc. However, office staff often misuses the resources for non-business activities.
Employers, who plan to monitor their staff, ask: Is employee monitoring software legal? Is employee monitoring unethical?
Employee computer monitoring software is the solution to possible computer resources abuse. According to PhD Johnathan Yerby (2013), current laws advocate the legality of employee monitoring software. However, taking into consideration that employee monitoring issues arise, the use of employee computer monitoring is a subject to an ethical dispute.
To act in line with the law and avoid employee monitoring at work ethical issues, the basic rules application is required.
Some employers are satisfied with their monitoring techniques legality; whereas others seek to follow ethical rules as well. The latest brings both the atmosphere of engagement and an efficient labor output.
The Basics Of Monitoring Software Legality
To avoid employee monitoring legal issues, the use of employee monitoring software should follow definite strategies:
Explicit or open monitoring policy means the staff under monitoring is aware about that. The best way to do so is to manage employees read and, in case of agreement, sign a relevant Consent document.
According to Miriam Wugmeister (Comparing the U.S. and EU Approach to Employee Privacy, 2008), “prior to the collection of data…an applicant will need to be fully informed regarding the data collection”.
2.Company aims congruity
Clear monitoring aims would help business owners to avoid the risk of defining the process of employee performance monitoring as tracking or surveilling individual activities. The monitoring aims could be as follows: Internet use policy conformity or licensed software usage monitoring.
Andrew Walls, risk and security analyst, considers that a top managerial agreement to monitor for possible corporate policy violations, which is also documented by attorneys, would keep the monitoring on the safe side.
3.No personal data monitoring
Personal or sensitive data is tracked only by spyware, which is the software that ‘spies’ on somebody’s privacy. The spyware application is generally considered to be illegal, unless approved by correspondent authorities to detect unique cases. Read about Spyware
Kate Lucente and John Townsend (Data Protection Laws of the World, 2015) define sensitive data as the information about racial / ethnic origin, political / philosophical opinions, membership of a professional / trade association, sexual orientation, genetic / biometric, etc.
4. Corporate property application
Big companies apply the strategy of providing their staff with corporate hardware (computers, laptops, smartphones, etc.), which remains the property of the corporations. Relevantly, the monitoring policy might include a line about corporate property monitoring rights.
According to Dorothy Glancy. a Law professor from Santa Clara University, courts have the belief that while using employers’ property (e.g. computers and networks), “the employees’ expectation of privacy is minimal.”
5.No content or keystrokes monitoring, only open information track
Monitoring the keystrokes pressed might provide information about passwords or email / chat / document / website content, – which is the data capturing private information. Moreover, monitoring content is not a necessary function for estimating individual or corporate performance level, and the privacy crossing risk is quite alarming here.
The following are examples of open information tracked by performance monitoring software: employee login name, computer name and time, website URL, software name and path. Correspondingly, monitoring software reports should be based on the open data, to keep it safe.
Employee Monitoring Software Ethics
The legality of employee productivity monitoring does not mean there should be no limits of what and how the data is collected. From an ethical perspective, employees expect their privacy respect when signing a work agreement. To determine how far an employer’s legal monitoring could extend, it’s advantageous to continue with the ethical side of monitoring.
Ethics investigates the question “What actions are morally right or wrong in particular circumstances?”
Employees answer “Yes” to the question “Is employee monitoring ethical?” in the following circumstances:
1.Understanding monitoring purposes
From an ethical point of view, employees do not mind employers monitoring whether the staff plays computer games at workplace or not. Facebook use or non-work related sites browsing during paid hours monitoring is also an intrusion most of the staff would agree to be reasonable. So, it comes to the importance of the monitoring purposes communicated effectively to the staff.
2.Respecting employers property
Employees tend to value employers providing them with smartphones and laptops for work-related purposes. In most cases, staff respects the fact that the owner of the property has the right to check how it is being used. The provision of the staff with relevant hardware and software would definitely make HR more loyal towards monitoring.
3.Being trained to avoid personal data sharing at workplaces
Employees would consider the productivity monitoring ethical when keeping their private information away from workplaces’ computers. To do so, the staff might be trained by HR managers, introducing relevant policies. Some of the companies even develop the policy with “legitimate” breaks for the Facebook time, when the monitoring is not applied.
4.Ensuring the protection of the data tracked
Employees who are aware that their information is stored securely from third parties, do not feel the monitoring practices cross the ethical line. Only a responsible manager should have an access to the information tracked. Moreover, it is ethical to monitor open information only, which is employee and computer login names (attendance monitoring), website URL (Internet use monitoring), and software /document names (software use monitoring). Sharing the data with colleagues is not ethical.
5.Mutual ethical standards establishment
Whereas, the legal perspective requires work contracts and employees’ consents signed to keep the monitoring safe for employers, the ethical point of view seeks moral rules obedience by both parties, employees and employers. For example, HR find it reasonable to obey the rule of not abusing the Internet for personal purposes, in case the corporate policy also includes the chapter on employers’ lack of rights to read personal e-mails, chats or any other content-related data developed by employees.
Acceptable personal attitude towards monitoring of any kind is encouraged by the sense of the fair play!
There remain cases when companies comply with the legality of the monitoring process, but the urge for employee monitoring ethics is not fulfilled.
When Monitoring Is Legal But Not Ethical
On the one hand, ethics and legality of employee computer monitoring are deeply intertwined. However, some practical examples show: companies might not occasionally comply with the ethical issue, still staying on the legal side.
Practical example 1
It is legal to monitor in case the Consent form is signed, but it could create a moral problem.
Explanation: Employees tend not to risk their working places by refusing to sign any papers suggested by the employer. However, only reasonable corporate policy reinforced by HR trainings would make the staff feel such an action is not an invasion of privacy.
Practical example 2
Visited websites URLs are not the source of personal information, unless the monitored data is secured from third parties.
Explanation: In practice, HR comfort with that kind of “intrusion” suggests that only a responsible manager might have the access towards the monitoring data on the visited websites by employees. Relevantly, the staff should be aware the information will not be handed to the third parties, nor in the form of surveys’ requests, nor as the marketing data for sale.
Practical example 3
Legal employee computer monitoring could inadvertently show employees’ sensitive data (namely: religion and political views, sexual orientation, and medical problems, etc.).
Explanation: While Internet use monitoring, the information about the web sites visited might unveil employees’ political views, for example. To avoid both the ethical and legal liness crossing, the policy of not browsing the web for personal purposes could be negotiated with the staff.
3 Unethical Monitoring Damages
Even legal employee computer monitoring might damage the office situation in case employees consider the process to be unethical.
The following are 3 main groups of productivity troughs possibly brought by the sense of an unfair monitoring:
1.The atmosphere of mistrust
Gestapo relations and distrustful atmosphere come from the office situation when employers leave themselves a right to monitor employees without preliminary warnings and relevant policies development. This, in turn, might lead to productive employees turnover.
Loosing independent staff is a common damage of unethical monitoring. Highly productive employees are aware they are paid for the work done, and do not want to be limited in occasional breaks.
Anthony Pozos, HR vice president at Amdahl Corp, says: “We pay people to do a job; we don’t really pay by time increment…People do sometimes need to do personal things on the job, but as long as it doesn’t interfere with work, that should be okay.”
Strict policies on employee computer behavior might block the creative thinking of employees. The damage is especially destructive for the creative professions such as journalists, PR managers, marketers, etc. For the staff not connected with the mentioned fields a loyal monitoring policy complemented by rare gamification breaks would facilitate a deeper engagement into company aims (compared to unethical surveillance).
Benefits Of Keeping It Legal And Ethical
Keeping the employee monitoring process legal and ethical is beneficial for both parties, employers and employees.
Legal and ethical employee computer monitoring is doable!
And the combination of the legality and ethics efforts is a fruitful one in terms of productivity:
Employees accept responsibility
The fair play sense of ethical monitoring make employees feel responsible and self-organized.
Employers avoid unclear labour force input
Legal and ethical monitoring provide a clear picture for employers, as they get the software reports providing with the information on the staff’s productivity.
Both sides create healthy and highly productive atmosphere
Keeping the moral and legal borders not crossed encourages engaged and healthy workplace atmosphere, which is the key to corporate productivity.
WorkTime, employee performance monitoring software, complies with the strictest regulations, remaining ethical.
By WorkTime, legal and ethical employee performance monitoring software
This article provides general information only. This information is for general understanding only and not to be used as a legal advice. To receive professional legal advice, please consult your lawyer.