Thinking of keeping an eye on employees in your workplace? Tread carefully.
Employers that want to monitor staff members’ workplace activities have a lot of options: email filters, website visit logs, global positioning systems, phone logs, keystroke logger software and even video surveillance.
But just because companies can use those means of monitoring doesn’t mean they should.
Here’s a list of what firms should and shouldn’t do when contemplating and implementing employee monitoring policies, according to the Workplace Insights Blog:
What to do
- Devise a clear, well-written policy. The most important thing employers can do is write and distribute a policy that clearly states what employees can expect from a monitoring policy.
This includes what’s monitored, where it’s monitored and when it’s monitored.
- Explain the “why.” Also in the policy, explain why monitoring employees’ activities benefits the company.
This could include anything from reducing theft to ensuring employees don’t accidentally download viruses onto the company network.
- Tailor your policies to fit your needs. There’s a fine line between keeping an eye on important workplace practices and playing “Big Brother,” so choose your monitoring systems carefully to ensure they aren’t intrusive.
- Make data storage a high priority. So you’ve decided to gather and store data on what you’ve monitored.
That means you have to keep it somewhere, and that “somewhere” should be on a secure computer or network – especially if any of the data contains sensitive info.
Also, reassure employees that only people on a “need to know” basis will have access to the data.
- Address social media. If you haven’t established a social media policy by now, you’re not going to want to wait much longer: More than 90% of firms in a recent Symantec survey said they’ve experienced the downside of worker social media use.
Spell out what use of social media is allowed in the workplace, if any. Also address how and when staffers can write about the company, personnel and products online.
What not to do
- Tread carefully on restricting employee personal cell phone use. There are some instances where personal cell phone use should be verboten – for example, you don’t want drivers texting or distracted by phone calls while they’re working.
But in general, worker cell phone and texting use rarely becomes a major workplace problem, so there’s little need to create a policy restricting it. If issues come up, address them on a case-by-case basis.
- Address employee’s use of personal email services. If you want to restrict employees’ access to their Gmail or Yahoo email accounts, spell that out clearly in your policy.
- Take a balanced approach to personal access to the Internet. Many firms have restrictions on what sites employees can access on workplace networks.
But moderation is key here.
Staffers will appreciate having some freedom – for example, looking up the address of a local restaurant – and it shouldn’t interfere with workplace productivity or effectiveness.
- Keep legal issues in mind. Webcams and location tracking devices may sound like great ways to make sure employees are working hard, but they can come back to bite you if you’re not careful.
Take time to go over exactly what the devices are capable of doing, how they work and, most importantly, any legal issues you could find yourself in for using them. There’s a fine line between having reasonable business concerns and improperly intruding on people’s lives.
What about real-time monitoring?
Some firms may wonder: How far is too far when it comes to monitoring staffers?
The answer: Real-time monitoring of emails and phone calls could get you in some serious trouble under the Federal Wiretap Act, according to Sharon Mollman Elliott on Labor & Employment Law Perspectives.
Typically, the act hasn’t been a concern for employers reviewing emails or messages because it doesn’t apply to stored communications.
But if you’re planning on doing real-time interception of calls or auto-forwarding of emails, your best bet is to get consent from employees and to update your electronic communications policy.