Your boss may be spying on you and chances are you'll never know it. From keystroke loggers to hidden cameras, employers around the country use different tactics to keep tabs on their employees, all of which are perfectly legal if you're using the company's gear.
"In large companies it's pretty rampant in terms of monitoring," says Josh King, general counsel at Avvo, a legal and health website. "If the employer is interested in doing monitoring, there's not a whole lot they can't do legally." According to experts, employers believe they are justified in using these big brother type tactics to prevent against things like lost productivity and leaks of company secrets.
"There is no more employee loyalty. Employees are not loyal to the companies they work for and employers don't feel the sense of a long term relationship with the employees," says Mark Jaffe, president of Wyatt & Jaffe, the executive search firm. The tough job market has prompted people to stay in jobs longer and take ones they normally wouldn't, creating an environment of unsatisfied workers which isn't lost on the employer, he says. "Companies feel they need to guard against duplicity, wrong doing or disloyalty," says Jaffe.
Employer spying tactics vary
So how are the bosses spying? Since employers own all the computer equipment, they have the right to monitor email, instant messages, documents and the websites employees visit. The companies can even listen in on phone conversations and put cameras in work areas as long as they own it all.
According to Andrea Bonior, a clinical psychologist and blogger for PsychologyToday, there are many workplaces that have cameras set up, but it's rare in an office setting. Cameras are more likely to be found in factories where companies are trying to gauge productivity. As for electronic spying or monitoring, Bonior says it's focused on websites and email. "Certain corporations are very paranoid about what kind of intellectual property they might lose," she says, noting that information landing in the hands of competitors is also a concern. For a lot of companies, however, spying is simply about the bottom line. "Companies are very concerned with wasting time. A lot of companies justify it by saying we don't have that much money. It's either lay off people or increase efficiency," says Bonior.
Employees aren't void of rights
Although employers have the right to monitor workers, the employees also have privacy rights. That means a boss couldn't sift through his underlings email without a business justification. What's more the employer needs consent from its workers to monitor their behavior in the workplace.
With many applications moving to the Web, what the boss can look at is also getting murkier. According to King of Avvo, an employee may be using a company computer to check his email, but is going to his private Gmail account. Not to mention that work doesn't stop at the office. Many people are using their own devices after hours to conduct business, which is why King says excess monitoring isn't a good idea mainly because it sends the wrong message that the employer doesn't trust its employees.
How to protect yourself
If you work for a company that you think is spying on you, the best defense is to stop any behavior that could cause you problems at work. Don't send personal emails from your company account, take part in inappropriate instant messages or spend office hours checking Facebook or playing Angry Birds.
The office also isn't the place to make excessive personal phone calls or complain about the boss on a company issued Blackberry. If you have to conduct non-related work during office hours, do it on your own smartphone or tablet computer. If that's not an option, send the email via your Gmail or Yahoo account.
"Recognize that you are in a fish bowl," says Jaffe. "The boss has every justification for looking at what's on his property."
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