Although it can be controversial, monitoring employee activity has become common practice for many companies. In fact, when it comes to businesses small and large, we found that more than two-thirds of companies facilitate at least some type of employee monitoring. Because employee phone usage is typical in many organizations, it only makes sense that phone surveillance is one of the most common types of monitoring. If you’re considering monitoring your employees’ cellphone usage for the first time, here is some helpful information to get you started.
According to Michael Trust, human resources practitioner at Myman Greenspan Fox Rosenberg Mobasser Younger & Light, if an employer provides an employee with a smartphone, any data created, used or accessed on that device is owned by the employer. This can include phone calls, voicemails, text messages, instant messages (e.g., WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger communications), emails, GPS locations, photos and web browsing history.
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“The company owns the phone and the data, and can review any and all of it at any time and for any reason,” Trust told business.com.
However, even though you may have a legal right to the data on your company cellphones, you still need to take legal precautions by creating a clear and comprehensive monitoring policy that discloses what information you are collecting and how you’re using it. This written policy should be signed by each employee who will be monitored.
“If the business does not have a policy like that, or has one and never enforces it, then employees may have some reasonable expectation of privacy in personal information on the phone or use of the phone,” said David Miller, labor and employment attorney at Bryant Miller Olive. “If the company accesses private information, particularly information a reasonable person would expect to be confidential, it could be vulnerable to a lawsuit.”
Miller added that public sector employers face the added restrictions of the Fourth Amendment prohibition of unreasonable searches. Establishing a clear policy that removes the expectation of privacy is key to legally tracking employee cellphones.
>> Read next: Employee Rights You’re Violating Right Now
Be wary of employees who want to use their personal devices for business activities, because this brings up a whole different set of monitoring issues.
Trust shared five common problems associated with employees using their own cellphones for business purposes.
“There is software that can be installed on a personal cellphone to segregate personal and business files, and the company would retain the ability to wipe the business side and to see what was occurring,” Trust said. “That’s the hybrid solution, but it still may require, depending on [the] jurisdiction, reimbursement for usage overall.”
Monitoring employee-owned devices can be a sticky situation. However, if you want to track the use of personal devices for work-related reasons, you should incorporate it into a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy.
Monitoring how employees use their company-issued cellphones can be very beneficial to your business. For starters, cellphones are more portable than computers and typically offer more insight into an employee’s behavior (especially regarding conversations and locations). Though the specific advantages you can gain from monitoring employees depends on the employee tracking solutions and policies you implement, below are some of the most common benefits.
There are multiple ways to monitor employees’ cellphone usage. For example, you can perform manual monitoring by checking phone records and mobile phone bills, or you can install a tracking app on each device. You will likely need to create a hybrid solution to best support your needs for monitoring. After speaking with experts, we developed the following process for implementing an employee cellphone monitoring program.
As previously mentioned, there are several ways to track how employees use their company-owned mobile devices. You first need to identify your reasons for monitoring (e.g., security, productivity, legal compliance, etc.) and then look for a solution that meets those goals and works with your equipment. For example, cellphone monitoring software like InterGuard and Cocospy is available for iOS and Android devices, and other software is available to block specific websites and applications. You’ll have to determine what combination of tools best suits your needs. [Check out our comprehensive review of InterGuard.]
Once you’ve decided on an employee monitoring solution, create a written acceptable use policy governing company communications devices. The policy should clearly outline limitations on usage, detail what is being monitored and spell out any disciplinary actions for noncompliance.
“The policy should also state that the employee has no expectation of privacy regarding any use of the equipment or anything stored on it and that the equipment is subject to examination by the company on demand,” Miller said. “A policy like this, clearly communicated, eliminates any argument an employee might have that his privacy was invaded if and when the company looks through the phone or monitors its use.”
It’s critical to tell employees you’re monitoring them. Review the policy with your employees, and have them sign a statement agreeing to the terms.
Once you start monitoring your employees, provide periodic training to keep them up to date on your guidelines and expectations. Inform your team of any new surveillance features, and enforce the monitoring policies uniformly across your organization.
“Any illegal activity found by the [monitoring] software can be used for disciplinary action – perhaps even termination – in accordance with your organization’s policies and procedures,” Trust said.
Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.