Workplace monitoring

Consequences of inappropriate workplace computer usage also can be serious for employees and companies. For instance, shortly before Christmas in 1999, 23 workers at a New York Times administrative center in Norfolk, Virginia were fired and a number of other employees were reprimanded for violating the company’s policy that prohibits using the corporate e-mail system to create forward or display any offensive or disruptive messages, including photographs and audio material. A number of Xerox employees were dismissed for spending as much as eight hours a day browsing X rated and e-shopping Web sites during work hours. Two executives at Salomon Smith Barney were fired after a routine check of corporate e-mail up pornographic material. And Lockheed Martin’s e-mail system crashed for six hours after an employee sent 60,000 coworkers an e-mail (asking them to respond back using as attached e-receipt) about a national prayer day. Because Lockheed depends heavily on its internal e-mail communication system this crash cost the company hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Even with all the workplace monitoring that managers can do, employees in the United States do have some protection under the Federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (ECPA). The ECPA prohibits unauthorized interception of electronic communication. Although this law gives employees some privacy protection it doesn’t make workplace electronic monitoring illegal, employers are allowed to monitor communications for business reasons or when employees have been notified of this practice. A similar law, the Data Protection Act of 1998, permits much of the same for companies in the United Kingdom. Although employees may think that it’s unfair for a company to monitor their work electronically and to fire them for what they feel are minor distractions the courts have ruled that since the computer belongs to the company, it has a right to monitor anything on its system. The point here is that a balance is necessary between the management’s need to know and the effect employee monitoring may have on employees’ morale.

One interesting facet to the employee monitoring debate centers on protecting the enterprise. Since September 11, 2001 many government agencies and private organizations have been increasing their computer surveillance in an effort to support homeland security. Because computer systems can and have had been hacked significant data can be lost. Moreover a terrorist attack on US computer systems could prove extremely damaging to the US economy. In India, too, there have been intense cyber wars against Pakistan. The two countries have been hacking into official and governments Web sites and sending viruses to each other. The Indian government is making a special effort to combat these forms of cyber terrorism but the rights of Internet users are suffering I the process. As such we can anticipate even more system monitoring and significantly more surveillance of many of the normal activities in our daily lives.

Is Employee Theft on the rise?

Would it surprise you to find out that nearly 85 percent of all organizational theft and fraud is committed by employers – not outsiders and it’s costly? It’s estimated that US companies lose about $29 billion annually from employee theft and fraud. Employee theft is defined as any unauthorized taking of company property by employees for their personal use. It can range from embezzlement to fraudulent filing of expense reports to removing equipment parts software and office supplies from company premises. Although retail businesses have long faced particularly serious potential losses from employee theft, loose financial controls at start ups an small companies and the ready availability of information technology have made employee stealing an escalating problems in all kinds and sizes of organizations. In India a combination of employee theft ad shoplifting costs Indian retailers over Rs 570 crores every year. Their foreign counterparts lose as much as 0.5 percent of their revenues in theft against 0.3 percent in India. In fact, a recent survey of US businesses indicated that more than 35 percent of employees admitted to stealing from their employers. That number is even higher when you include theft by employees having been laid off. It’s a control issue that managers need to educate themselves about and with which they must be prepared to deal.

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