Do employers have the right to monitor employees at their workplace? Can the employer use my webcam to monitor my work activities? These are some of the questions that keep arising in today’s workplace. The concerns have increased due to the recent personal data collection allegations by major tech firms. Below is a discussion of some of these concerns and what you should know.
Employee Privacy Concerns
In the current world, most employees are aware of issues regarding privacy. Most people take privacy matters seriously, whether it’s social media, emails, browsing history, or even ads. For this reason, employees get concerned at the thought of employers monitoring daily activities.
While laws, such as Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), offer protection against recording private conversation, they also allow employers to monitor business-related activities. However, they are also required to notify you of ongoing recording. An employer may tell you about surveillance through memos or meetings.
Should Employees Worry About Webcam Surveillance?
When communication relating to work becomes virtual, there are high chances your employer has a way to keep tabs. In fact, Bloomberg reported that some companies in the financial sector warned workers they would check their online activities. Additionally, Zoom has created a tool that helps a call host track whether his listeners are paying attention. All this indicates that your employer can use the webcam, especially when using company-supplies devices.
Reasons Why Employers Monitor Employees
Thanks to technological advancement, employers can now put the workplace beneath a microscope. With the rising demand for telecommuters, many employers have at one point considered using webcams to monitor employee’s work habits. These companies are mainly concerned with productivity or security. According to a survey done by the American Management Association, employers can monitor activities in the following ways:
- 10% monitor social media sites
- 12% monitor things such as websites and blogs to keep track of any information about them
- 43% monitor stored computer files
- 45% monitor content on computer screens, time away from the computer, and keystrokes,
The survey also found out that about 48% of participating companies use video surveillance to prevent sabotage, violence, and theft. Only 7% of those companies used video monitoring to track on-job performance. This means that despite having the ability to monitor performance using webcams, most employers decide not to. Keep in mind that the survey was before the ongoing pandemic. The outbreak of COVID 19 could spark the need to monitor telecommuters as companies adjust to remote work.
Is It Legal For My Employer To Monitor Me At Work?
A simple answer to this question would be yes. As mentioned earlier, the law allows your employer to monitor workplace activities but with a valid reason. Your privacy protections may only apply in case the employer did not notify you about it. However, most employers inform employees through various ways, which include employee handbooks and employment contracts.
The highest possibility is that you never read carefully through the handbook. Also, remember your employer may monitor your device when connected to the company’s network. The only place in the workstation where your employer shouldn’t monitor is in the locker rooms and washrooms.
Laws Applicable To Employment Surveillance
The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) offers some protection against monitoring through labor unions. The law provides that the employees can collectively bargain against surveillance, especially when engaging in concerted activities. Although most federal laws do not restrict monitoring, they may protect your privacy in certain situations. Some states like Illinois and Maryland have laws that require consent to recording from both parties.
Can My Boss Monitor Me Through My Webcam?
Most modern computers or laptops come with a webcam. Using anti-theft software, the front-facing webcam of your computer can take still images without your knowledge. The software allows remote control and can activate your camera also without your knowledge.
In case you have an employer-supplied laptop, chances are it contains anti-theft software. The federal law does not restrict your employer from using the software, but some states such as California have webcam surveillance restrictions. For instance:
- The employer should not monitor you in places where you expect privacy, such as bathrooms
- The employers should notify you about the webcam or video surveillance
Generally, the law favors your employer. For example, Lower Merion School District VS Robbins was a case involving high school students and laptops issued to them. An IT company was capturing photos remotely via the webcam. After investigations by the FBI, they concluded that the company did not violate any law.
However, in spite of such laws, your employer may make employment terms that allow him to access the webcam. Experts recommend that you consult employment lawyers before signing employment contracts. Some people deny the employer access to the computer by putting a cover over the webcam, such as masking tape. Keep in mind that such measures are ground enough for employment termination.
Should The Employer Use A Webcam To Monitor Telecommuters?
The current pandemic has increased the need for telecommuters, and most employers are now offering it as an option. It has also led to increased demand for spy software to monitor remote employees. Like most decisions in life, the question is always whether you should and not if you can. Carefully evaluate your concerns and why you need webcam surveillance whenever you need to introduce a webcam policy.
If you have productivity concerns, there are other ways to help you track workflow without setting up webcam surveillance. Consider other software that can help you:
- Archive all web pages viewed
- Capture whatever is on the screen of any laptop within your network
- Monitor all open applications on your employee’s computer
- Monitor keystrokes
Such software provides better insight into your telecommuter’s activity instead of watching them the whole day. Furthermore, there are other better ways to monitor without making employees feel uncomfortable.
What Should Employers Do?
Although you may monitor employees through a webcam, there are other effective ways that can help them stay diligent in their responsibilities. The main challenge of telecommuting is the feeling of isolation which may lead to boredom and laxity. You can solve this by providing a collaborative means of communication that offers the support system to keep everyone engaged.
For instance, you can have a morning online meeting for each department where everyone discusses that particular days’ workload. This way, you can provide a formula for working with deadlines and provide the necessary support when needed. Additionally, you can utilize productivity tools such as G Suit for Business and Hangout to create an easy and effective communication channel.
Such practices and tools allow your team to remain productive and connected when working from home. Also, they are less intrusive than webcam surveillance. You can also establish clear key performance indicators (KPIs) for both individuals and departments. It would help you monitor and compare metrics for everyone and identify trends.
Ultimately it all comes down to proper communication. As an employer, ensure you communicate clearly that the law gives you the right to monitor and track every company-owned device. Establish procedures and policies that will guide your IT technical team on what to do and not to. Also, ensure employees get training on those policies.