Does Your Firm Monitor Employees at Work?

In April 2001 the American Management Association published its annual survey on workplace monitoring and surveillance.

The survey found that 78 percent of employers of large U.S. firms are recording and reviewing their employee’s electronic communications. This surveillance includes the storage and review of telephone conversations, voice mail and e-mail messages, and computer files. Employers are also reportedly monitoring Internet connections and video taping employee performance.

The prevalence of electronic monitoring has doubled since the first AMA survey in 1997. Monitoring, for the most part, takes the form of spot-checking employees rather than 24-hour surveillance. Of those surveyed, 90 percent said they let their employees know that they are being monitored.

According to the survey, two thirds of the employers have disciplined employees for abuse of office e-mail or the Internet, and more than one third have dismissed employees for these abuses.

While large companies are more likely to monitor their employees, monitoring is most prevalent in the financial sector (banking, investment houses, insurance and real estate etc.) with 92 percent of firms actively monitoring their employees, and least prevalent in public administration where only 69 percent of organizations monitor employees.

Why Monitor Your Employees?

  • Legal compliance – in the federally regulated telemarketing sector the taping of employees gives some legal protection to both the consumer and the company.

  • Legal liability – employees can sue employers if they are exposed to offensive material on their colleagues’ computer screens.

  • Performance review - employees’ performance can be taped and then reviewed and evaluated with their supervisor to improve job performance.

  • Productivity measures – the amount of time employees spend surfing the net and sending and answering personal e-mails can be determined and fairly regulated for both the employer and the employee.

  • Security concerns – monitoring can be used as a security measure to protect the company’s proprietary information.

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