Invasion of Privacy

Technological advances have made the process of managing an organization much easier. But technological advancements have also provided employers a means of sophisticated employee monitoring. Although most of the monitoring is designed to enhance worker productivity it could and has been a source of concern over worker privacy. These advantages have also brought with them difficult questions regarding what managers have the right to know about employees and how far they can go in controlling employee behavior, both on and off the job.

What can your employer find out about you and your work? You might be surprised by the answers. Consider the following:

The mayor of Colorado, Springs Colorado reads the electronic mail messages that city council members send to each other from their homes. He defended his actions by saying he was making sure that e-mail to each other was not being used to circumvent his states open meeting law that requires most council business to be conducted publicly.

National Labor Institute in India published a report on working conditions in BPOs especially call centers in India in 2005. The report highlighted that supervisors in BPO companies not only monitored the performance of the agents quantitatively by examining average call times, number of calls, etc., but they could also listen in to the agent’s call, often without the agent’s knowledge or consent to evaluate whether the agent’s work met required standards. Surveillance systems employed by call centers assess the entire gamut of activities of the agent within the firm, ranging from their entry to the workplace to an interim break for lunch. Even the toilet and coffee breaks of these employees are monitored and employees taking breaks that are longer than permissible are warned:

The US internal Revenue Service’s internal audit group monitors a computer log that shows employee access to taxpayer’s accounts. This monitoring activity allows management to check and see what employees are doing on their computers.

American Express has an elaborate system for monitoring telephone calls. Daily reports are provided to supervisors that detail the frequency and length of calls made be employees as well as how quickly incoming calls are answered.

Employers in several organizations require employees to wear badges at all times while on company premises. These badges contain a variety of data that allow employees to enter certain locations in the organization. Smart badges, too, can transmit where the employee is at al times.

Just how much control should a company have over the private lives of its employees? Where should an employer’s rules and controls end? Does the boss have the right to dictate what you do on your free time and in your own home? Could, in essence your boss keep you from engaging in riding a motorcycle skydiving smoking, drinking alcohol or eating junk food? Again, the answers may surprise you. What’s one employer involved in employees’ off work lives has been going on for decades. For instance in the early 1900s Ford Motor company would send social workers to employees homes to determine whether their off the job habits and finances were deserving of year end bonuses . Other firms made sure employees regularly attended church services. Today, many organizations, in their quest to control safety and health insurance costs, are once again delving into their employees’ private lives.

Although controlling employees’ behaviors on and off the job may appear unjust or unfair nothing in our legal system prevents employers for engaging in thee practices. Rather the law is based on the premises that if employees don’t like the rules they have the option of quitting.

Managers typically defend their actions in terms of ensuring quality, productivity and proper employee behavior. For instance an IRS audit of its southeastern regional offices found that 166 employees took unauthorized looks at the tax returns of friends, neighbors and celebrities.

When does management’s need for information bout employee performance cross over the line and interfere with a worker’s right to privacy? Is any action by management acceptable as long as employees are notified ahead of time that they will be monitored? And what about the demarcation between monitoring work and non-work behavior? When employees do work related activities at home during evenings and weekend’s does management’s prerogative to monitor employees remain in force?