Is Employee Monitoring Software Legal?

Workplace Monitoring Featured

If you look for computer monitoring tools on a search engine, you’ll see a range of tools designed to keep tabs on employees. These typically include some worrying features, such as the ability to track someone’s activities without them ever knowing. But how legal is this, and can a boss get into serious legal trouble if their monitoring is discovered?

What Kind of Monitoring Can Happen?

Employers will typically monitor employees for one of two reasons. For one, they want to protect business assets. When a company owns a building and gives resources to their employees, they want to ensure nothing gets stolen or damaged. This includes tracking the location of employees and products but can also mean monitoring email to prevent data leaks and breaches.

Another reason is that the boss wants to monitor the productivity of the employees. This involves spying on what the employee is doing during work time. This can include keylogging, webcam spying, and monitoring active applications.

How Legal Is the Monitoring?

When breaking down how legal this monitoring is, there are many variables involved. For example, different countries will have different ways of approaching this grey area.

Workplace Monitoring Law

You’ll find that laws typically side with the business when it comes to protecting assets. For example, if a business logs emails made on its work email accounts to prevent information leaks, that would be legal. Similarly, if a business wants to use CCTV to protect against thieves, they could.

Things get a little murkier when it involves spying on how a worker uses their company computers. Typically, if an employer can see what you’re doing by watching over your shoulder, they can log it. This includes the websites you visit and the applications you use.

The grey area comes in when the employer hides these tracking apps from the employee. In most U.S. states and some countries like the UK, it’s totally legal for a boss to install monitoring software without the employees knowing. Connecticut, Delaware, and some countries demand the employer tell their workers what’s being monitored and for what purpose.

Employers also enter a grey area with GPS tracking on equipment. They can argue that installing GPS on a laptop helps retrieve stolen goods, but it could also be used to track employees after work to see what they do. As such, an employer may need to put forward a strong defense for GPS monitoring – that is if such a thing is even legal in the country they operate in.

When Monitoring Goes Too Far

So we can see there’s a good chance that employees in your country can and will monitor workspace equipment. However, this doesn’t give them free reign over what they can monitor and store about you.

Workplace Monitoring Spying

For instance, things get illegal when the employer tries to push their monitoring into employees’ private lives. For instance, if you use a work PC during a break to check your email, the employer can legally see that you visited your email provider but can’t go through your emails.

Similarly, any monitoring that does occur has to have a business reasoning behind it. If an employer monitors your phone calls to ensure you’re meeting company protocol, that’s acceptable. However, if an employer monitors someone with a speech impediment and saves recordings to share with his friends for a laugh, that’s illegal.

Monitoring Made Legal

While employee monitoring software features may seem intrusive, the truth is that employers can legally monitor a lot. As long as it’s related to the operation of a business, employers have a lot of freedom; however, as soon as it breaches into unprofessional spying, the employer works against the law.

Do you think employers should inform their employees of monitoring software by law? Or is it an effective way to prevent misuse of property in the first place? Let us know below.

12 comments

  1. “Do you think employers should inform their employees of monitoring software by law?”
    Yes. Most employees will forget the warning within a week, anyway.

    “Or is it an effective way to prevent misuse of property in the first place?”
    Only if it is enforced.

  2. It is immoral that one who owes his existence to the workers for him to watch them. Instead of employees watching how the employer uses and distributes the wealth they produce , the lazy employer watches the employees to whom he owes his existence. Immoral, absolutely.

    1. How moral is it for employees to use company-provided equipment to surf porno sites on company time when they should be doing the work they are being paid for?! By any definition, that is theft, fraud and breach of contract. Immoral, absolutely.

      1. Dear friend, your sack is too big and you’re putting in workers and sexual perverts. No, you’re not wrong, there really are those, but this is a matter for those who produce the wealth of a business and not the lazy employer. Me, you, all the honest workers have to deal with the pervert and not to deprive him of the food with dismissal and make him a pervert AND a thief. The society is ours, we are the majority and we are responsible for the society’s health not the minority of employers.

        Be Well
        Kle

        1. Clearly you’ve never been an employer!

          You’re mantra based phrasing is embarrassingly naive. You assume all employers are lazy and all workers honest which is obviously not the case. The person who looks at porn sites it not necessarily a pervert, indeed the majority are not. Firing an employee for gross misconduct does not make him into a thief. That will be his choice.

          1. I’m not religious and I love people because I have proof of their kindness. After 1.5 million kilometers at the wheel of a semi-trailer Volvo I can inform you that I have worked very hard in my life. I wouldn’t be nothing if it weren’t for their help, from their heart, people in Turkey, Iraq, Greece, Germany, Yugoslavia, Italy, United Kingdom etc. All people are good when you treat them with trust and respect. I have never been disrespectful to a mechanic, a tyre technician, a brake technician, an electrician, a factory guard, a loading or unloading worker, a highway waiter, tolls employe, etc.
            The beach is thrown out by the workers ‘ society alone. The pressure from the environment forces him to straighten out. No one likes working to make a living for a man who watches porn.

            Be Well
            Kle

          2. I’m not religious and I love people because I have proof of their kindness. After 1.5 million kilometers at the wheel of a semi-trailer Volvo I can inform you that I have worked very hard in my life. I wouldn’t be nothing if it weren’t for their help, from their heart, people in Turkey, Iraq, Greece, Germany, Yugoslavia, Italy, United Kingdom etc. All people are good when you treat them with trust and respect. I have never been disrespectful to a mechanic, a tyre technician, a brake technician, an electrician, a factory guard, a loading or unloading worker, a highway waiter, tolls employe, etc.
            The beach is thrown out by the workers ‘ society alone. The pressure from the environment forces him to straighten out. No one likes working to provide good living for a man who watches porn.

            Be Well
            Kle

          3. Having read your reply to my comment several times I have decided not to continue this conversation on the grounds that you are clearly insane.

        2. For every honest, hard working person such as yourself, there ten that want to get get paid for as little work as possible. For 35+ years I worked in IT department of a company with over 10,000 employees. I cannot tell you how many times we (IT) had to re-install all the company software for employees because, while surfing the ‘Net visiting all manner of sites, they picked up malware, unwanted/unneeded toolbars and other kinds of crap. There always were people complaining bitterly about slow response time. We would ask “Were you visiting such and such sites?”. Eventually they admitted that they were. Then somebody had to spend a couple of hours de-lousing the work station.

          Four or five times all the networks used by the company had to be shutdown because, during their surfing, some employee(s) picked up some virus that infected not only all the work stations but also the mainframes. Each time the entire IT staff (over a 100 people) had to go out and disinfect each and every work station. Meanwhile over 10,000 people couldn’t do their job. Just imagine you are the employer and everybody just sits because one idiot decided to satisfy his or her libido. You know yourself that if your truck is not going done the road, you are not making money.

          BTW – that class warfare garbage (rich employers exploiting poor, defenseless employees) you are spouting, went out of style with Chairman Mao and when the Berlin Wall fell.

          1. My friend, I’m sure everything you say is accurate, just as I’m sure all of this is our responsibility to deal with. No employer can be more convincing than a colleague from the office next desk or, if you like, all colleagues in the chamber. The great Socrates said: “I’m getting old and constantly taught,” if you see the workplace as an extension of school, where is taught the cooperative behavior, then you’ll find/you could find a way to convince the pervert that he puts at risk the possibility to maintain your families with his behavior.

            There is no need to mix the employer, who only cares about profit, with us, who only care about living with dignity. When your child does something wrong it’s your responsibility to teach him the right thing, not the president of the Republic! We’re not independent entities, we’re not robots! We’re a big family sharing the same space and the same tools to make our living. Why do we need the employer’s “iron hand” to threaten us?

            BTW: Where/How did Mao and the Berlin Wall enter into the debate? We’re good people.

  3. Since the underlying assumption is that the employees are using employer-owned equipment, the employers are well within their rights to monitor things like email or even phone calls. I would draw the line where video monitoring is occurring without knowledge of the employees; even if nothing illegal is taking place, embarrassing circumstances could occur if the employee is unaware of being “watched”.

    I believe it is a matter of course that employees would be informed upon being hired what their company policy is concerning use of employer-owned equipment. Forewarned is forearmed! I do agree that it is more problematic if the monitoring is unknown to employees; perhaps in those circumstances the term “spying” is more accurate, but otherwise the monitoring is legitimate.

  4. Our office uses Kickidler software. We warn our potential employees about that during interviews. Employment contract includes the clause that there is a possibility you could be monitored. The only time we experienced problems was when we were implementing the program. Quite a few employees weren’t happy; one staff member even quit because of that. But in the end we think it was a justifiable sacrifice, seeing how the overall productivity improved.

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