Is Big Brother Watching Your Office?

Monitoring employees' IT activity is good. Too much is bad.

How closely do you monitor your employees’ IT activity at work?

Track them too closely, and you run the risk of creating a Big Brother environment in your office. That’s not good.  But if you’re too loose – or if you do no monitoring at all – you could be opening yourself up to a cyber-attack. And that’s even worse.

“Reportedly, effective employee monitoring systems can help productivity and therefore benefit the bottom line,” writes attorney Seth Laver for Professional Liability Matters. “However, it can also create problems with the employment environment. This is an important balance for all employers: to effectively monitor employee activity in a trusting and comfortable manner.”

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3 Big Takeaways
Laver is a partner in the Philadelphia office of Goldberg Segalla, where he represents lawyers in malpractice cases. He is also the editor of the firm’s Professional Liability Matters blog.

Here are three takeaways from his recent post on monitoring the IT activity of your employees:

  • Transparency is key. Come up with a policy and communicate it consistently and clearly.
  • Respect your employees. They have a reasonable expectation of privacy in some situations.
  • Avoid surprises. Let your staff know how they will be monitored and why.

Here is Laver’s post in its entirety:

Data is everywhere. We’re being tracked in the car, in the grocery store, even when we’re walking the dog. As I write this, I’m being monitored as well, through employee monitoring administered by my firm’s I.T. department. This may help to prevent cyber-crime, as well as assisting with productive, employee locating and resources usage. Reportedly, effective employee monitoring systems can help productivity and therefore benefit the bottom line. However, it can also create problems with the employment environment. This is an important balance for all employers: to effectively monitor employee activity in a trusting and comfortable manner.

There are some guidelines on how best to monitor employees. First, ensure there are no surprises. Carefully document the systems that are in place and ensure that all employees have access to that information. The goal is not to create a paranoid environment, but consistency and understanding. Transparency is key. Include the monitoring systems in any employment handbook and consider obtaining acknowledgement from each employee that they read the policy. The policy should address each instance in which the employee is monitored and how.

As is the case with many aspects of the law, expectations are important. When utilizing company equipment, employees should have little expectation of privacy. However, if employees use devices for personal reasons, there is an expectation of privacy but still that information may fall in the hands of the employer. This can be problematic when it comes to private health information or other confidential information.

Employee monitoring provides valuable information but it must be handled carefully to avoid a culture of mistrust. Respect and transparency are paramount. An effective employee handbook or standalone brochure available to employees must clearly document the policy and ensure that all employees are aware of the monitoring protocol and know where to raise questions, if any.

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