In a tight economy, companies must do everything possible to trim their budgets and make certain that they are the most productive they can be. Recent studies indicate that nearly 64% of all employees visit non-work related websites every day (Conner, 2013). Not only are non-work employee activities a waste of company time and money, they can be dangerous. The company many be liable for damages that the employee causes to others while on the company Internet. In addition, they may inadvertently download dangerous software or malicious programs that could pose a danger to the company system.
Software is now available that allows employers to snoop on their employee’s activities. This includes blocking access to certain websites, intercepting email, keystroke logging, and other forms of surveillance. Nearly 70% of all employers now engage in monitoring employees, including email (Schulman, 2010). Employees are quick to claim fowl when these programs are first initiated. Management is quick to note who is the first to complain, assuming that the complainers are guilty as charged. Employees now have access to nearly 2 trillion gigabytes of information at their fingertips (Connor, 2013). Websites like Facebook and other social networks provide many opportunities for nonproductive work time. This does not even consider the urge for instantaneous distractions such as Googling any random question that happens to pop into the employee’s head during the day. The potential for distraction is enormous and it is no wonder why employers are concerned for their bottom line.
Legally, employees have little recourse against employee monitoring. The few court cases that have been brought against employers based on privacy laws have been decided in favor of the employers (Schulman, 2010). Many of these are based on the 1986 Electronics Communications Privacy Act. This act prohibits the interception of electronic communications, including email by a third party. However, certain people are exempted from this law, including employers who provide email and internet access to their employees (Schulman, 2010). Employers are required to inform their employees that they are being monitored.
Technology has blurred the line between private and public lives. Many employees conduct business from home via the Internet. The manner in which they are paid plays a key role in where boundaries should be drawn. At an office, the employer can claim right to monitor because they own the equipment and pay for the utilities. Internet provided by the employer is done so under the assumption that the employee will utilize it to conduct work that will result in revenues for the company. Few employers intended to provide entertainment while their employees were supposed to be improving the bottom line. However how much monitoring and when it can be performed is the key ethical issue today. For instance, should the employee be allowed to access their Facebook account when they are on break? Should they be allowed to stream videos and music while they work, as long as it does not disturb others?
A recent study found that employees waste varying amounts of time everyday at work, and many claim that they have a right to a certain amount of “me time” (Connor, 2013). The question is if they really do have a right to chat with their friends on Facebook during work time. It is estimated that 39% of all employees spend less than an hour on non-work related websites, but they do spend some time. Nearly 29% spend one to two hours, 21% spend two to five hours, and nearly 8% spend six to ten hours on non-work related websites (Connor, 2013). According to the study, the most frequently visited websites are Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and SnapChat. There are some employees that use the Internet wisely and do not engage in excessive time wasting, but this study indicates that the ones that do cost the company considerable lost capital. When one considers these statistics, it seems that instead of asking if employee monitoring is ethical, or if employees should be allowed their self-prescribed relaxation, it if it ethical for them to be paid for entertainment, when they are apparently providing nothing in return for their employer.
The answer to the problem of how much time employees are allotted and what activities are allowed is the Acceptable Usage Policy. This is a new instrument being used by employers to set the standards and boundaries that apply to Internet usage, emails, and other forms of electronic communication. This policy meets the requirement of informing the employee of any monitoring that will be occurring and defines issues such as going out on the Internet for entertainment during breaks. Once the employee signs the policy, they are then bound by its terms. If the employee is caught breaking the policy, the company then has recourse to discipline the employee according to the policies set forth. The employee has little recourse in the matter when the company has an effective Acceptable Usage Policy in place.
Employee monitoring at work has many facets. Employees feel that they must be able to have a certain amount of privacy at work. Employers feel that they are not paying employees to entertain themselves at the expense of lost productivity. Currently, the legal and ethical standards are in favor of the employer’s right to monitor their employees. Employees are expected to perform their work according to company standards. Entertainment is not a basic employee right and employers are not required to put up with it. Employers have the right to monitor their employees, protect their bottom line, and to ensure that there is sufficient work for the employees in the future. Employee monitoring is likely to be here to stay. Managers must place the needs of the organization and its future above the individual rights and complaints of individuals.
- Connor, C. (2013, September 7). Who Wastes The Most Time At Work? Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/
- Schulman, M. (2010). LittleBrother is watching you. Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. Retrieved from http://www.scu.edu/