Issue of privacy in the workspace is a heated one, and a one, with which different countries deal differently. In some regions of the world it is completely fine for employers to monitor actions of their employees, while in others it is deemed illegal. But regardless of what law dictates, most will agree that only relationships based on trust and understanding between both employers and employees can lead to prosperous and successful business.
However, this does not stop employers in their neverending quest for productivity from spying on their employees, sometimes even crossing the line of what is deemed acceptable. Not all of the ways to monitor employees’ activity are explicit, and you may be even unaware that your employer does this to you. Here are 10 ways in which your employer may control your actions.
1. Tracking attendance
Probably the most harmless and most widespread way your employer watches you is attendance tracking. A case that it infringes on your privacy can be hardly made, since such a tracking is necessary for both you and your employer to stay on the same page and know how much hours you have worked and how much you need to get paid.
Attendance tracking first started back in the day, way before computers where a thing. Back then time of each and every employee was calculated manually by a person occupying a special position, dedicated only to this activity. Today there are a number of tools to automate attendance tracking, making it one of the simplest ways to check on employees.
2. Using employee monitoring software
However, probably the most terrifying for us and best for zealous employers way to control employees is the use of employee monitoring software. Software such as Ekran System is capable of fully recording your screen, thus allowing your employer to see everything – from visited websites, to opened applications, to e-mails you write, and even every mouse movement you make. Sounds pretty scary. Now, those of you who are working in freelance or subcontracting from home may be used to such applications – they are often used to track the actual time people spend working. In the regular office environment, they are usually employed to keep track on privileged users, such as system administrators, that may pose a huge risk for organization if they ever go rogue. However, for regular employees such systems may seem highly intrusive. One redeeming quality of such apps is that they often do not hide from user. So keep an eye on those notifications and running processes in order to know whether your employer uses one of those. Now, whether such monitoring is ethical, or it crosses the line, is a whole different can of worms. What you need to take away from this is that whenever you use a corporate computer expect your every step to be meticulously monitored.
3. Using surveillance cameras
Surveillance cameras became so widespread that many employees don’t even realize how intrusive they are. Many people come to office expecting to see a surveillance camera under a ceiling. However, such surveillance can be useful for employees themselves, as it allows to prevent petty crimes at the workspace. A good employer will place cameras in such a way as to leave some spaces unmonitored in order to create areas for employees where they can relax from the stress of being permanently watched.
4. Phone call recordings
While surveillance cameras track where you are in the office, most of the time they are not good enough to pick up sound or know exactly what you are doing at the moment. Phone call recordings are much more intrusive because they allow your employer to actually listen to your call conversations. Now, it may be not so bad if you are calling for work, but if you’re making a personal call, an employer will most likely have a recording of that too. In some states it is illegal for employer to monitor your calls without notifying you, while in others they can and will do it. Therefore, whenever you make a call using a corporate phone, consider yourself watched. Good employers will accommodate privacy of their employees and will take an effort to not record private calls.
5. Location tracking
An advent of GPS saw appearance of another way to track employees, the one that became extremely common for the people working on the field – location tracking. If you’re not sitting in the office, but rather going around either making business deals, sales, or deliveries, expect your employees to track your positions, either by using GPS in your corporate phone, or the one in your corporate car, that is commonly used in logistics. Location tracking allows employers to know whether their on-field employees are working or not, and assess their productivity. While some consider this to be invasive, in many ways location tracking can be compared to video surveillance, and we already established that this is not such a big deal. In logistics companies, it creates an additional security tool to cover drivers and quickly respond to the incidents.
6. E-mail monitoring
Now, e-mail monitoring is something that probably most employees will consider intrusive. But face it, this is mostly due to most of us being used to sending personal e-mails during work hours. In this sense, employers can be understood. But employees also have a case here – no matter how much work you have, personal live just doesn’t magically disappear as soon as the next working shift starts, and its much faster to send an e-mail, than it is to actually make a phone call. Law varies on whether personal emails can be monitored. But remember, if you are sending something your employer better not see (such as, sending job applications while looking for a better position), make sure to send it from your home computer.
7. Instant message monitoring
If you thought that your Skype communications where safe from your employer, think again. There are software out there specifically designed to capture instant messages. Instant messages have been a huge problem for productivity, since some of us are often using them to extensively chat with friends and family instead of working, so employers are not hard to understand here. However, such messages can contain extremely sensitive private information, making concerns of privacy violations also extremely valid.
8. Recording keystrokes
What’s even more intrusive is the fact that your employer can see every keystroke you type, regardless of whether you type an e-mail, instant message or use a social network. There are numerous free and paid keyloggers out there, such as Free Keylogger Pro and Elite Keylogger. They can be used to record every keystroke you type. While serving as a deterrent to malicious insiders, they can also put pressure on regular hard working employees. Be careful of what you type, because your boss will likely be able to read it too.
9. Web activity monitoring
There are a number of ways to check what sites a person has been visiting, from checking browser history to using traffic sniffers, such as Wireshark, to intercept data exchanged between network and your PC. Use of such tools from the employer perspective is fairly understandable – if employees are visiting adult sites or downloading pirated content from a work PC, employer can be hold accountable. However, this does not make it any less stressful or intrusive for employees. A good employer will restrict access to websites that he or she doesn’t want you to visit beforehand, in order to avoid any unpleasant talks in the future.
10. Using spyware
While user monitoring software is terrifying enough, as mentioned above, you at least know that it’s running. But some employers will not stop at that. Sometimes they use software that specifically hides itself from the user, watching your every step discreetly without you even knowing it’s there. Such software is by all accounts classified as a spyware by most security specialists and most antiviruses. Legality of such software heavily depends on the country. While in most countries it is illegal, in US it is a grey area, where each state has their own regulations. If you suspect that your employer uses spyware on you, make sure to check your local laws – you may still be able to get some compensation for violation of your privacy.