This article needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.Find sources: "Employee monitoring" – news · newspapers · books · scholar · JSTOR (June 2018) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)

Employee monitoring is the (often automated) surveillance of workers' activity. Organizations engage in employee monitoring for different reasons such as to track performance, to avoid legal liability, to protect trade secrets, and to address other security concerns. This practice may impact employee satisfaction due to its impact on the employee's privacy. Among organizations, the extent and methods of employee monitoring differ.[1]

Surveillance Methods

A company can use its everyday electronic devices to monitor its employees almost continuously. Common methods include software monitoring, telephone tapping, video surveillance, email monitoring, and location monitoring.

Software monitoring. Companies often use employee monitoring software to track what their employees are doing on their computers. Tracking data may include typing speed, mistakes, applications used, and what specific keys are pressed.

Main article: Employee monitoring software

Telephone tapping can be used to record employees' phone call details and conversations. These can be recorded during monitoring. The number of calls, the duration of each call, and the idle time between calls, can all go into a log for analysis by the company.[1]

Main article: Telephone tapping

Video surveillance can provide video feed of employee activities that are passed through to a central location where they are monitored by another person. These can be recorded and stored for future reference which some believe is the most accurate way to monitor employees. "This is a benefit because it provides an unbiased method of performance evaluation and prevents the interference of a manager's feelings in an employee's review" (Mishra and Crampton, 1998). Management can review an employee's performance by checking the surveillance to detect and potentially prevent problems".[1]

Main article: Video Surveillance

Email monitoring gives employers the ability to look at email messages sent or received by their employees. Emails can be viewed and recovered even if they had been previously deleted. In the United States, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act provides some privacy protections regarding monitoring of employees' email messages and other electronic communications. See Electronic Communications Privacy Act#Employee privacy.

Main articles: Computer and network surveillance and Email privacy

Location monitoring can be used for employees that move their place of work. Common examples of companies that use location monitoring are delivery and transportation industries. Sonetimes the employee monitoring is incidental as the location is tracked for other purposes.[vague] Employees' phone calls can be recorded during monitoring. The number of calls, the duration of each call, and the idle time between calls, can all go into an automatic log for analysis by the company.[2]

Main articles: Geolocation software and Device tracking software

Key logging, or keystroke logging, is a process that records a user's typing.[3] Key logging software may also capture screenshots when triggered by predefined keywords. Some[who?] see it as violating workplace privacy and it is notorious for being used with malicious intent. Loggers can collect and store passwords, bank account information, private messages, credit card numbers, PIN numbers, and usernames.

Main article: Keystroke logging


Employee monitoring often is in conflict with employees' privacy.[4] Monitoring collects work-related activities, but it can also collect employee's personal information that is not linked to their work. Monitoring in the workplace may put employers and employees at odds because both sides are trying to protect personal interests. Employees want to maintain their privacy while employers want to ensure company resources aren't misused. In any case, companies can maintain ethical monitoring policies by avoiding indiscriminate monitoring of employees' activities.[5] The employee needs to understand what is expected of them while the employer needs to establish that rule.

With employee monitoring, there are many guidelines that one must follow and put in place to protect the company and the individual. Some following cases are ones that have shaped the certain rules and regulations that are in effect today. For instance, in Canada, it is illegal to perform invasive monitoring, such as reading an employee's emails, unless it can be shown that it is a necessary precaution and there are no other alternatives. [6] In Maryland, everyone in the conversation must give consent before the conversation can be recorded (especially during telephone calls). The state of California requires that the monitored conversations have a beep at certain intervals or there must be a message informing the caller that the conversations may be recorded. However, this does not inform the company representative which calls are being recorded. All employers must create a comprehensive employee handbook that will include both mandatory and recommended policies. Handbooks must explain in detail what employees are permitted or not allowed to do in the workplace. Employers must update handbooks if employment laws or policies change. Other states, including Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Colorado and New Jersey have laws relating to when a conversation can be recorded. "Lawyers generally advise that one way for businesses to avoid liability for monitoring employees’ online activities is to take all necessary steps to eliminate any reasonable expectation of privacy that employees may have concerning their use of company email and other communications systems."[7] Businesses makes employee monitoring a known tool that supervisors use to avoid any potential legal issues that may arise. They will announce this during new hire orientation, in a staff meeting, or even in a workplace contract that employees sign either at the time of hire or after a form of misconduct.

Legal Uses

Businesses use employee monitoring for various reasons. The follow is a list that includes, but is not limited to:[citation needed][8]

Legal Issues

In January 2016, European Court of Human Rights issued a landmark ruling in the case of Bărbulescu v Romania (61496/08) regarding monitoring of employees’ computers. The employee Mr. Bărbulescu accused the employer of violating his rights to ‘private life’ and ‘correspondence’ set in the Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.[9] But the Court stated that the employer had every right to monitor the employee’s computer in this case due to the fact that such monitoring was implemented to ensure that there is no breach of company policy. This historic ruling has confirmed that it is not unreasonable for employers to monitor their employees’ computer activity and such monitoring does not violate their human rights.

A year later, in July 2017, German court also ruled that computer monitoring of employees is reasonable but the use of keylogging software is excessive.[10]

Employee monitoring software developers warn that in each case it is still recommended to advise a legal representative and the employees should give a written agreement with such monitoring[11] Majority of instances are a case by case situation and is hard to treat all the issues and problems as one. As new laws have been enacted dictating the bounds of these practices, employers have been forced to change their monitoring protocols.[12]

Financial benefits

Employee Monitoring can be used to monitor the safety and productivity of the employees but it also may help businesses financially. From the illoyal employee who steals time and money from the business to the redefining of unprofitable processes in monitoring employee actions, employee monitoring allows for financial profits from a small investment. The monitoring of employees can help in the protection of employees and it can help as protection in litigation by employees for job-related issues such as failing to perform, illegal activities and harassment claims. According to the American Management Association, almost half (48%) of the companies surveyed use video monitoring to counter theft, violence, and sabotage. Only 7% use video surveillance to track employees' on-the-job performance. Most employers notify employees of anti-theft video surveillance (78%) and performance-related video monitoring (89%) (retrieved from the article The Latest on Workplace Monitoring and Surveillance).[13] In an article in Labour Economics, it has been argued that forbidding employers to track employees' on-the-job performance can make economic sense according to efficiency wage theory, while surveillance to prevent illegal activities should be allowed.[14]

An indirect way that companies can be affected financially through employee monitoring is that they can be sure they are billing clients correctly. According to "Business 2 Community," inaccurately billing clients is always possible because of human error. Such inaccuracies can cause disputes between a company and a client which could eventually lead to the client terminating its business with the company. This sort of termination will not only hurt the company's revenue stream but also its reputation with other clients or potential clients. The suggested solution to this problem is a time tracking software to monitor the number of hours a client spends with an employee. [15]

Dr. Johnathan Yerby, Professor of Information Technology at the Middle Georgia State University School of Computing said, "The enormity of potential productivity losses, as reported by Court (2004), is approximately one million dollars annually for a company with 500 employees surfing the Internet for just a half hour a day."[16][17][18] Not only does employee monitoring prevent theft of money and resources, but it also prevents theft of time. This often happens during the holidays with online shopping, as well as during March Madness. Employees might spend their time using their work time for personal uses and employee monitoring is intended to regulate this.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Mishra, Jitendra M; Crampton, Suzanne (1998). "Employee monitoring: Privacy in the workplace?". S.A.M. Advanced Management Journal. 63 (3): 4–14. ProQuest 231233456.
  2. ^ SHERMAN, MARK. "GOV'T OBTAINS WIDE AP PHONE RECORDS IN PROBE". Archived from the original on May 14, 2013. Retrieved May 13, 2013.
  3. ^ Leijten, Mariëlle; Van Waes, Luuk (July 2013). "Keystroke Logging in Writing Research: Using Inputlog to Analyze and Visualize Writing Processes". Written Communication. 30 (3): 358–392. doi:10.1177/0741088313491692. S2CID 145446935.
  4. ^ Mishra, J. M. & Crampton, S. M. (1998). "Employee monitoring: Privacy in the workplace?". S.A.M. Advanced Management Journal. 63 (3): 4.
  5. ^ Burks, F. Ethical Issues & Employer Monitoring Internet Usage., 2010.
  6. ^ "Supreme Court rules employees have right to privacy on work computers".
  7. ^ Yerby, Johnathan (2013). "Legal and ethical issues of employee monitoring". Online Journal of Applied Knowledge Management. 1 (2): 44–55.
  8. ^ Mishra, Jitendra M. "Employee monitoring: Privacy in the workplace?". S.A.M. Advanced Management Journal. 63.
  9. ^ EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS, JUDGMENT (2016-12-01). "itemid":%5b"001-159906"%5d}/ "CASE OF BĂRBULESCU v. ROMANIA (Application no. 61496/08)".
  10. ^ Catalin Cimpanu (2017-05-08). "Companies Can't Use Keyloggers to Spy on Employees, Says German Court".
  11. ^ "How Companies Monitor Their Employees". 2016-09-23.
  12. ^ Yerby, Johnathan. "Legal and ethical issues of employee monitoring". Online Journal of Applied Knowledge Management (OJAKM).
  13. ^ "Training Solutions for Individuals, Organizations and Government Agencies".[permanent dead link]
  14. ^ Schmitz, Patrick W. (2005). "Workplace surveillance, privacy protection, and efficiency wages" (PDF). Labour Economics. 12 (6): 727–738. doi:10.1016/j.labeco.2004.06.001. hdl:10419/22931.
  15. ^ Vessella, Victoria (October 12, 2015). "6 Benefits of Employee Monitoring". Business 2 Community. Retrieved March 3, 2020.
  16. ^ "Johnathan Yerby".
  17. ^ Yerby, Johnathan (2013). "Legal and Ethical Issues of Employee Monitoring" (PDF). Online Journal of Applied Knowledge Management.
  18. ^ Court, L.; Warmington, C. (2004). "The workplace privacy myth: why electronic monitoring is here to stay". Employment and Labor Law. 1 (1): 1–20.