Myriad products and services allow managers and businesses owners to monitor their employees' activities, but employers should know the do's and don'ts of using them. Employers have a lot of leeway regarding what they can do legally, but it's still possible to overreach and find yourself in a bad position. If employees feel that you're always looking over their shoulders, it can be a detriment to employee trust and morale. Therefore, it's good, early on, to, first, disclose to employees that you use monitoring tools and, second, establish a mutual understanding with employees on how and why you use monitoring tools.
There are many benefits for installing video security, web monitoring software and telematics. As an employer, you may want to install video surveillance around your workplace for security and safety reasons. It may lower your insurance costs in some cases. Plus, video surveillance allows you to keep a record of incidents that may lead to litigation, and that evidence can be key to protecting your business and employees. In this same regard, surveillance can prevent theft, both from customers and from employees.
Employees don't have an expectation of privacy, except in obvious circumstances, such as in restrooms and locker rooms. While video surveillance has a lot of pros, it probably shouldn't be a secret. To prevent any trouble, place clear signage that states the use of video cameras on the premises. The signage alone can serve as a deterrent to theft.
Computer monitoring tools have become sophisticated enough that employers can view workers' screens discreetly and even track keystrokes. If it's on a company device, the employee has little to no expectation of privacy. A common reason for using this technology is to ensure an employee is being productive. It's important to see if your employees are keeping focused on their jobs, but it's also important to make it clear in your employee policy what employees can and can't use on work-provided devices, both on and off the clock. [Read related story: Best Employee Monitoring Software]
If your employees use devices for personal reasons, there's the possibility of you learning too much information. This becomes especially dicey when it comes to private health information. For example, if you see that your employee has been visiting specific health sites or making doctor appointments for specific issues, not only should you not disclose this to anyone, but if you keep a record of it and it's leaked due to a data breach, you can find yourself running afoul of HIPAA and leaving yourself vulnerable to litigation.
A good rule of thumb is to monitor employees' activity only if you have a valid reason or goal related to the business. Private, personal information that you wouldn't otherwise have obtained without the use of monitoring tools shouldn't be recorded or disclosed unless it's absolutely related to the business.
The same goes for GPS monitoring. Employers can easily view GPS coordinates for where their company laptops or smartphones are. Telematics and fleet tracking likewise indicate where a company vehicle is currently and where it's been. Businesses have the right to know where their property is, and it especially comes in handy if something is stolen. However, unless it's deemed necessary, it's not advised to record where employees go in their off hours.
Transparency about monitoring and a clear, direct company policy can go a long way toward avoiding uncomfortable or negative situations from arising. Obtaining consent from the employee when they are hired is also a good idea.
"Opening up communication between employee and employer can convey several positive messages," according to Nate Masterson, marketing manager with Maple Holistics. Discussing the reasoning and goals of monitoring as well as receiving feedback can help assuage fears of "big brother spying" and help you achieve those goals.
Making it clear to employees that their browsing history is open to inspection is more likely to keep them on track with their work in the first place, which is better than confronting them about excessive browsing after the fact and invoking some sort of discipline.