Sunday Apr 20, 2014
Legal rights at work and your electronic devices - Is your boss watching you?
Written by Frank Johnson   
Tuesday, 03 July 2012 00:43

With increasing popularity of social networking sites and smartphones for communication, employees tend to get distrcated at work too. But this causes a severe loss of productivity and also amounts to infringement of data protection laws. Frank Johnson describe your legal rights at work and the right ways to use lectronic devces. Employees often check their personal mails or log in to social networking account using the Internet at work. Employers-provided mobiles are used for long talks with their friends and family members ignoring important work at the office.

They use office e-mail accounts to send personal e-mails, chat on Facebook and other social networking sites, read film gossips and news, conduct personal research or even to check and post on personal blogs. All these things have made employers more alert, who is now compelled to use different surveillance methods to keep an eye on staff. As a result, they are using highly invasive techniques to monitor all productive and non-productive works of their employees at the workplace. They are taking help of high-tech devices such as screen capture software to monitor their employees’ surfing activities, and miniscule spy cameras to record their movements in the office. Some of employers are even tracking their whereabouts through GPS-enabled mobile phones.

Computer Monitoring Employers are using computer software to monitor all your surfing and emailing activities at work. The software allows them to capture the screen of employees systems and monitor Internet usage and electronic mail. Emails that you write or receive at work can be subject to close monitoring. Nowadays, software can automatically copy and save all incoming and outgoing email messages on your computer terminal that can easily be accessed by employers. But now the question arises that are employers allowed to monitor computer terminals of employees? The answer is yes. Since the computer network and terminals belong to employers, they have legal rights to monitor all internet activities at workplaces.

In many cases, courts have even ruled that employers are free to read employee email messages sent or received at work, even if the company doesn’t have an email policy. Telephone Monitoring Telephone monitoring is another bone of contention between employers and employees. If an employer needs to monitor employee telephone calls at work, he has all legal rights to do so. Telephone monitoring is generally done to monitor calls with clients, and employers refrain from monitoring your personal calls. But when an employee makes personal call from specified business phone, then employers have legal rights to monitor even personal conversations. Employers often use a device called pen register to see all dialed numbers from employee phone extensions and length of each call. It gives them a fair idea of the amount time spent by employees with customers. Spy Camera Monitoring Most of employers are now using video monitoring to track employees movements and productivity at the workplace.

Spy cameras are also used to prevent theft and other security reasons. At present, there is no such legal law in the US to prevent employers from video even without the consent of employees. But in some cases courts have ruled in favor of employees’ privacy, specifically when the monitoring was considered physically invasive. Courts have strongly prohibited employers to use video monitoring devices in bathrooms or in a locker room. Chatting and Social Media Monitoring With the fast rise of social media sites, specifically Facebook and Twitter, lots of employees have been found to be indulged in personal and even sexual chatting at workplaces.

That has led to strict monitoring of social media usage by employees at offices. Many companies have introduced social media policies for that clearly states what an employee can and cannot post on social networking sites, specifically such issues that are directly or indirectly related to the company. Although there is no federal law that allows an employer to monitor social media activities of employees, they are free to monitor their employees’ activities on social networking sites. In many cases employers have even been found to hire services of spy companies to monitor social media activities of their employees. Some states in the U.S., including California and New York, have special laws that prohibit employers from monitoring employee’s activity on social networking sites.

What are the Legal Rights of Employees to Prevent Monitoring at Work?

The growing incidences of surveillance and monitoring at work have led to a debate about employers and employees legal rights. Today, employees are more concerned about their privacy rights and are demanding for powerful federal laws to protect their privacy at workplaces.

But the question is, does your boss have legal rights to violate your privacy at work? The answer is yes, especially if you're working in the US. All the techniques that your boss is using to monitor your activities in the office are probably supported by law. In fact, most of workplace privacy laws in the US only ask employers to inform employees if they are being tracked. If you are working in the United States, you leave your privacy rights at the office door every day you go to work. In the United States and several other countries there are absolutely no protection provided to employees that guarantee privacy at the workplace.

In fact, employers in the US have legal rights to monitor all computer transmissions and activity at their offices. In the US, most of the cases related to right to privacy at the workplace have been ruled in the favor of employers. Currently there are very few federal laws in the US that regulate employee monitoring. Some states in the United States including California and New York have few specific laws that regulate employee monitoring by employers. But in United Kingdom employees have more rights when it comes to their privacy at workplaces.

In UK, employers need to inform employees and get their consent before they can monitor their computer terminals to see internet and email usage. There are several organizations in the United States that have been assisting employees regarding their workplace privacy rights. These organizations are actively involved in employees monitoring issues and are demanding for protective federal laws to safeguard employee privacy at workplaces.

About the Author: Frank Johnson is a regular editorial contributor on technology products and services and business operation tips that help small to mid size enterprises. To know more about legal rights at work and your electronic devices, you may interact with him here

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