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Monitoring in the Workplace: Is it Too Much?

by Expert Lilliana | 17 Aug 2016

Employee Monitoring

It is well-settled that an employee does not shed his constitutional rights when they punch in their time cards and report for work in their office. Nowhere in the United Constitution can we find the declaration that these rights are not accorded to the workers and employees. In fact, the Supreme Court in a number of cases has upheld the right of the employee to the protection under the Fourth Amendment.

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In the1920 case of Silverthorne Lumber Co. v U.S. 251 U.S. 385, the Supreme Court has declared that the protection under the Fourth Amendment covers a person who is working in the office. “The essence of a provision forbidding the acquisition of evidence in a certain way is that not merely evidence so acquired shall not be used before the Court but that it shall not be used at all.”

It would seem however that the protection accorded to employees is less if the intrusion and monitoring were done by his employer. Whether we like it or not employee monitoring has been going on since the concept of employer-employee relationship has started. The idea of an employer monitoring the performance of his employees is not new. The difference is that before employee monitoring was limited to checking the number of hours an employee has logged in for work and to monitoring the employees’ output for the day.

Nowadays, with the advancement of our technology, comes the sophistication of the methods for monitoring employees. It would seem that the employers are monitoring not merely the output of his employee but also his every activity inside or outside the workplace. Virtually every behavior and conduct of the employee are now being monitored in the workplace.

Two Interests Involved

When we speak of employee monitoring in the workplace, two competing interest come into play: the right of every employee to privacy and the business interest of the employer. It bears stressing that employees do not give up their constitutional rights when they enter the workplace. On the other hand, employers are entitled to a certain degree of protection from the abusive conduct of its employees.

Recent surveys show that a majority of the employers monitor the activities of their employees in the workplace, to wit:

A 2005 survey by the American Management Association found that three-fourths of employers monitor their employees' website visits in order to prevent inappropriate surfing. And 65% use software to block connections to websites deemed off limits for employees. About a third track keystrokes and time spent at the keyboard. Just over half of employers review and retain electronic mail messages. (Employee Monitoring: Is There Privacy in the Workplace?)

Advantages of Employee Monitoring

There are several reasons why employers normally monitor their employees. Firstly, practicality demands that an employer monitors the activities of his employees because of the theory that an employee who knows that he is being watched and monitored is more “likely to stay on the task.” (“Advantages of Company Wide Monitoring over Focused Employee Investigations”) It is common knowledge that employees do not devote the full 8 hours a day for company-related work. There will be times when the employee during work hours will leave his workstation or he will stay in his workstation and visit nonwork-related websites. This happens even if the company pays the employee to perform his work. When this happens, it takes an employee longer time to finish his work thereby incurring additional expense for the company in the form of electricity, overtime pay, and reduced productivity. This will be avoided if the company will monitor the activities of its employee.

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