Privacy In The Workplace

Privacy In The Workplace

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Privacy in the Workplace

Employers want to be sure their employees are doing a good job, but employees do not want their every movement and thought logged. Technology now makes it possible for employers to keep track of virtually all workplace communications made by any employee. This monitoring includes supervision of telephone conversations, voicemail, e-mails and Internet use. Such supervision is virtually unfettered. Therefore, unless company policy specifically states otherwise your employer may listen to, watch and read most of your workplace exchanges.
Federal law has loose regulations on the monitoring of work related phone calls. Companies may monitor employees’ conversations with clients or customers for quality control. A few states require that a tone or beep must sound to alert the caller that he or she is being monitored. For the most part, employers are allowed to monitor work calls unannounced. Personal calls are a different story. Most calls from the office are screened, so a personal call may be screened accidentally. However, when the supervisor realizes the call is personal, he or she must stop listening to the call at once. The majority of companies also keep records of all calls dialed and the lengths of those calls.
“More than 20 million people use e-mail in the United States-including 60 percent of employees at Fortune 2000 Companies and 75 percent of respondents to a survey of members of SHRM” (McCune 39). Companies are allowed to read electronic and voice mails that travel through their system. The company owns the infrastructure and therefore has the right to examine its contents. People may think that since they have to use a password to access their mailbox the messages it contains will be kept private. Contrariwise, even once a person has deleted a voice or electronic mail, the message is often backed up along with other data from the computer. Several workplace privacy court cases of this type have been decided in the employer’s favor.
The monitoring of activities on employees computers is the most explicit infringement of workplace privacy. An employer may monitor idle time spent on an employee’s keyboard or record all of the keystrokes made on it. A key logger is a program that records every keystroke entered on computer. This computer software tells the manager how many keystrokes per hour each employee is performing. However, than may also be used to read private e-mails or documents the employee is composing. Lastly, employers may use programs that enable them to view what is on a workers screen or stored in the employee’s hard drive.

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Employers can observe Internet usage. Once again, the employer owns the networks and the terminal and therefore has the right to view their contents.
“Analysts estimate employees spend 30 to 40 percent of each workday online” (Business Wire). Software such as FastTracker, a product developed by Flatline Corporation, is an Employee Internet Management service. It is a tool that enables businesses to manage employees' use of the Internet and the information they collect while online at work. Companies implement these technologies for four major reasons. First, ensuring that employees do not spend hours on the Internet for personal use and cut productivity. The next use of these products is to protect the confidentiality of business information. Thirdly, employers could be held liable if employees download and use pirated software. Last, businesses want to protect their computers form viruses introduced by downloaded software.
Monitoring may also have a down side:
“The New York Times fired 20 employees at a Virginia payroll processing center for violating corporate policy by sending "inappropriate and offensive" e-mail, and the Navy reported that it disciplined more than 500 employees at a Pennsylvania supply depot for sending sexually explicit e-mail. Xerox fired 40 people in October for violating company computer policies and Boeing has fired a few on similar grounds too. Such cases hardly come as a surprise: 45 percent of major U.S. companies engage in "electronic monitoring of communications and performances," according to a 1999 survey conducted by the American Management Association” (Kent 2).
New technologies such as e-mail and the Internet have changed the way people across the world does business and communicate. With all this new equipment, employees must remember that virtually nothing they view, write or say will be kept completely confidential.


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Warren, Jim., Thorwaldson, Jay., and Koball, Bruce. Computers, Freedom, &
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