If you have a computer terminal
in your office, it may be a window into the workspace. There are several
types of computer monitoring. Gal Tec Incorporated offers several types of
employee monitoring. We can comprise information of how much time an
employee is working, shopping on eBay or just chatting with friends, all the
while collecting a paycheck.
Employers can use computer
software that enables them to see what is on the screen or stored in the
employees' computer terminals and hard disks. Employers can monitor
Internet usage such as web-surfing and electronic mail.
People involved in intensive word-processing and data entry jobs may be
subject to keystroke monitoring. Such systems tells the manager how many
keystrokes per hour each employee is performing. It also may inform
employees if they are above or below the standard number of keystrokes
expected. Keystroke monitoring has been linked with health problems
including stress disabilities and physical problems like carpal tunnel
Another computer monitoring
technique allows employers to keep track of the amount of time an
employee spends away from the computer or idle time at the terminal.
Is an employer allowed to see
what is on the terminal while someone is working?
Generally, yes. Since the
employer owns the computer network and the terminals, he or she is free to
use them to monitor employees. Employees are given some protection from
computer and other forms of electronic monitoring under certain
circumstances. Union contracts, for example, may limit the employer's right
to monitor. Also, public sector employees may have some minimal rights under
the United States Constitution, in particular the Fourth Amendment which
safeguards against unreasonable search and seizure.
There may be some
additional rights for employees in California given specific statutes of
that state. See the paper by Los Angeles attorneys John Caragozian and
Donald Warner, Jr., titled "Privacy
Rights of Employees Using Workplace Computers in California,"
published in 2000.
Can an employee tell if their
Most computer monitoring
equipment allows employers to monitor without the employees' knowledge.
However, some employers do notify employees that monitoring takes place.
This information may be communicated in memos, employee handbooks, union
contracts, at meetings or on a sticker attached to the computer.
In most cases, employees find
out about computer monitoring during a performance evaluation when the
information collected is used to evaluate the employee's work.
Electronic Mail and Voice Mail
Is electronic mail
private? What about voice mail?
In most cases, no. If an electronic mail
(e-mail) system is used at a company, the employer owns it and is allowed to
review its contents. Messages sent within the company as well as those that
are sent from your terminal to another company or from another company to
you can be subject to monitoring by your employer. This includes web-based
email accounts such as Yahoo and Hotmail as well as instant messages. The
same holds true for voice mail systems. In general, employees should not
assume that these activities are not being monitored and are private.
Several workplace privacy court cases have been decided in the employer's
favor. See for example:
When an employee deletes a
message, is it still in the system?
Yes. Electronic and voice mail
systems retain messages in memory even after they have been deleted.
Although it appears they are erased, they are often permanently "backed up"
on magnetic tape, along with other important data from the computer system.
Electronic mail system has an
option for marking messages as "private." Are those messages protected?
In most cases, no. Many
electronic mail systems have this option, but it does not guarantee your
messages are kept confidential. An exception is when an employer's written
electronic mail policy states that messages marked "private" are kept
confidential. Even in this situation, however, there may be exceptions. (See
Smyth v. Pillsbury.)
Is there ever a circumstance
in which messages are private?
Some employers use encryption to
protect the privacy of their employees' electronic mail. Encryption involves
scrambling the message at the sender's terminal, then unscrambling the
message at the terminal of the receiver. This ensures the message is read
only by the sender and his or her intended recipient. While this system
prevents co-workers and industrial "spies" from reading your electronic
mail, your employer may still have access to the unscrambled messages.
Workplace Privacy Protections
What about my promises
regarding e-mail and other workplace privacy issues. Are they legally
Not necessarily. Usually, when
an employer states a policy regarding any issue in the workplace, including
privacy issues, that policy is legally binding. Policies can be communicated
in various ways: through employee handbooks, via memos, and in union
contracts. For example, if an employer explicitly states that employees will
be notified when telephone monitoring takes place, the employer generally
must honor that policy. There are usually exceptions for investigations of
wrong-doing. If you are not already aware of your employer's workplace
privacy policies, it is a good idea to become informed.
In Smyth v. Pillsbury, the
employee's termination was upheld by the court, even though the company had
a policy of allowing e-mail use for personal communications. In this case,
the employee had sent messages to co-workers that were deemed highly
inappropriate for workplace communications. (Smyth v. Pillsbury, C.A. NO.
95-5712, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania,
Jan.18, 1996, Decided, Jan. 23, 1996, Filed.