Is it Ethical to Monitor Your Employees?
Employers have monitored their employee since the very creation of a job. A supervisor makes sure that the end product is up to standards while keeping track of lost inventory and the amount of time spent on a project. Written language was developed due to a necessity for keeping records of tools, livestock, personnel and other materials. The earliest forms of using a written language date back to 5000 years ago and they are preservations of ancient company records. Record keeping is important for loss prevention and accountability, especially in large scale operations.
As technology has evolved, so have the methods for monitoring employees. Call centers record phone conversations for quality assurance purposes. Surveillance cameras capture the comings and goings of many business establishments, and GPS beacons are installed in company vehicles to determine whereabouts. Responsible businesses keep track of how their workers use company property, and computers are no different. In fact, computer monitoring is just as important as other forms of monitoring because of the versatility of computers connected to the Internet.
One of the first questions in regards to computer monitoring is about how ethical employee monitoring is. Computers seem to have an air of privacy connected to them, and people seem to feel that whatever they do on a computer should be their own business and no one else’s. In fact, everything that happens on that computer should be related to company business, so it is not only the employer’s right, but it is their responsibility to know how the computer is being used. A problem arises when a company snoops on their employees and keeps records without letting them know. An employee with an expectation of privacy might unintentionally reveal private passwords, banking information, political or religious beliefs, medical conditions, etc. which might cause issues in the work environment down the road.
The question of ethics boils down to whether or not the employer has provided proper notification and received acknowledgement and consent. Before employees use any company property or access a company computer, they must sign usage agreements which hold them responsible for how they use the equipment. The usage agreement will outline in what capacity the equipment is to be used, what action will be taken in the case of misuse and will also explain how information about the equipment will be attained. When workers know ahead of time that a company has policies, they will learn to abide by the guidelines in order to avoid any potential obstacles.
Internet access has made it easier for people to communicate, run errands and pay bills electronically without the need to take extra time off from work or travel back and forth to various locations to accomplish certain tasks. A worker may spend their work breaks tending to these personal matters while using a company’s Internet connection. If a worker uses company equipment on their personal time without knowing about the company’s monitoring system, they can allege that the information captured was attained improperly. By attaining consent and outlining the company’s monitoring policy, employees will know that any information they provide over company computers or networks will be accessible by their employer, so they should avoid providing any sensitive or private information.
Computer monitoring in the workplace may seem overbearing to some employees who expect a modicum of privacy when using a computer. But the fact remains that company computers are company property and should only be used for conducting official business. Any information that an employee provides willingly is provided at their own discretion. There are legal risks involved with running any business, and accurate record keeping helps mitigate any risks and hold persons accountable for their actions. Monitoring employee activity is just as important today as it was thousands of years ago when the first company logs were produced.