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Electronic Employee Monitoring:
A Bibliographic Analysis Essay
Lisha Liu
Academic affiliation: Oklahoma State University
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The purpose of this paper is to examine scholarly arguments that have been made with respect to electronic employee monitoring and workplace privacy. Employee monitoring has become a big issue. With the advanced technology use of computers, employees' activities can now be measured and monitored electronically. Privacy issues are unavoidable although research shows that employers have good reasons to monitor. Good reasons for monitoring include increasing productivity, keeping company secrets safe, avoiding legal troubles, keeping staff away from visiting inappropriate websites and downloading illegal materials to a work computer, and assuring employees of a safe and hospitable working environment (Mishra and Crampton 5-6). The appropriate boundary between the employer's rights and the employee's privacy is vague, and agreements are never reached. A solution to workplace privacy problems for employers is to implement sound monitoring policies and guidelines explaining computer and Internet usage.

Sacha Cohen argues that one of the major concerns for employee monitoring has to do with productivity within an organization. Due to the widespread adoption of the Internet, personal use of computers by employees has also grown rapidly. Computer Economics estimates that companies lost $5.3 billion to recreational Web surfing in 1999 (Cohen 2). Employers need to make certain that employees are being productive and helping to increase revenues. Many organizations decide to monitor employees in order to keep staff away from spending more time in personal computer use than working because "surfing the Internet and sending personal e-mails take up time and reduce productivity" (Martin and Freeman 2). Employees are not working the hours they are paid to work. The more time they spent in writing e-mails to friends, the less time they are increasing productivity. Along with Cohen's argument, Frederick S III Lane also says that the main reason for employee monitoring is lost of productivity (130). Productivity is suffering from non-work related use of the Internet. Monitoring limits employee access to the Internet so that non-work related surfing can free up bandwidth, reduce costs, and increase productivity.

Unlike Cohen and Lane, Shel Holtz and Sara Basse claim that access to the Internet freely increases productivity and efficiency. In fact, monitoring employee Internet usage has negative impact on productivity because it causes more stress; Basse states, "the surveillance causes stress, boredom, and low morale. Critics point out that stress increases costs for the employer" (345). As a result, employees under stress are sick more often, and sick leave requests increase, which leads to a decrease in productivity. If employees were allowed to access the Internet without monitoring, they would not get so stressed.

Also, evidence suggests that work is getting done faster and the quality is better because of employee access to the Internet (Holtz 4). Workers who spend time surfing during working hours work extra hours. There is nothing wrong with employees to working twelve hours a day and spend one hour checking personal e-mails and trading a stock. Basse shows an example of a top-performing employee in a company actually spends more than an hour a day managing his own stocks on the Web (352). Increasing productivity and good performance do not mean there should be no access to the Internet or employees should be monitored.

Objections to employee monitoring arise mainly because it invades employees' privacy. Electronic monitoring is intrusive and does not respect employee privacy. Seumas Miller and John Weckert have outlined a list of the general notion of privacy. Some of them include "privacy is completely relativised to what people in a particular society, at a particular time, are prepared to disclose about themselves…privacy is a desirable condition, power or moral right that a person has in relation to other persons and with respect to the possession of information by other persons…" (2-3). Privacy is something personal, and it should not be interfered by others, including one's employer. Moreover, there is a moral obligation to respect the individual's right to privacy (Miller and Weckert 2).

Kristen Martin and R Edward Freeman have another explanation on privacy, which states "Privacy is measured by the amount of control we have over our own information or characterized by the level of access others have to our information" (3). With electronic monitoring, employers are allowed to search files on an employee's work computer and are able to review employee's emails. According to the definition of privacy that is provided by Martin, there is no privacy in the workplace since employees do not have control over their information, and employers have access to employees' information. Advancements in technology make monitoring of employee's activities easy especially in gathering their private information. "Keystrokes can be monitored for speed and accuracy. Common software for accessing the Internet logs all activity so that a record is kept of all visits to all sites and email…Employers have no absolute right to monitor employees" (Miller and Weckert 4). These monitoring activities involve unjustified invasions of privacy and violate employee's right to privacy.

Opposing to Seumas Miller and John Weckert's point that monitoring has invaded employee's privacy, Lane argues that searching e-mail can be monitored because e-mails are not entitled to the privacy protection. E-mail is a written communication from one person to another person without particular protection. "Only letters that are sealed, stamped, and deposited in a U.S Postal Service mailbox are entitled to the privacy protection offered by federal law. Since e-mail does not remotely conform to postal regulations, it has roughly the same privacy protection enjoyed by postcards" (Lane 139). E-mails are like postcards; they are not private documents and open to the public. Incoming and outgoing e-mail is stored on a mail server, which the company has access to it. The company copies each e-mail and moves it to another backup drive, and the e-mail is kept there for as long as the company wants (Lane 139). Since e-mail is treated as postcards, every one has access to it without submitting oneself to the violation of privacy.

Keeping company investments safe is another good reason for employee monitoring to take place. With a greater reliance on computer systems, company information and confidential documents are stored in the database, and they can be easily passed through e-mails. Disloyal employees can e-mail trade company secrets and intellectual property quickly and easily to the public. When sensitive company information pass through e-mail on a regular basis, electronic monitoring is necessary to maintain the security of the organization (Martin and Freeman 3). Companies that do not protect their investments securely, one hacker or virus can destroy everything. Security breaches and leaked out information are the result of lacking employee monitoring. Cohen says that "20th Century Fox in Los Angeles use electronic monitoring to make sure that confidential information about movie scripts, deals, and other Fox business does not leak outside the company's e-walls" (3). Electronic monitoring is useful to protect a company's secrets and intellectual property.

Employers use monitoring to avoid exposing themselves to the liability for employee actions. Monitoring is to help prevent possible criminal activities by employees such as downloading unauthorized material to a work computer and selling illegal drugs through the Internet in a work place. More problems include harassment, running a business using the company's address, and running betting pools on football and basketball can be found in e-mail, which make monitoring legitimate in order to investigate possible illegal actions (Lane 349). Monitoring is necessary to reduce harassment in the workplace and to maintain a safe working environment for employees. Martin and Freeman agree with Lane that businesses not only face increased liability for sexual harassment by employees, but employers have also become more concerned about illegal uploading or downloading and other copyrighted material to a corporate computer (3). Evidence of these illegal materials including unauthorized music, movies, games, and software can be easily found in old e-mails and files. Courts are using these evidences to rule against employers and the company. According to the American Management Association survey "more than two-thirds of respondents claim that concern over lawsuits is very important in the decision to monitor" (Martin and Freeman 3). It is understandable that employers monitor Internet communication and search files in a work computer to lessen employer liability for employee's illegal actions.

While keeping employees away from inappropriate actions, employers are able to maintain a safe and hospitable working environment. Michael Higgins says that employers need to maintain a clean, G-rated workplace. Sexually explicit and offensive e-mail in the workplace are harassing employees (4). Companies read employee e-mail or search employee files primarily when there is a complaint to suspect a harassment problem. Basse states, "the most common e-mail problem reported by one company was harassment" (349). There is a need to monitor for possible legal troubles in order to protect the company from lawsuits for an employee's misconduct. Agreeing with Higgins and Basse, Lane says that many companies install the software to mostly block adult material including adult content, nudity, sex, sex education and lingerie (145). Companies use filters and monitors to block access to inappropriate materials and to keep the workplace clean and secure.

After discussing the advantages and disadvantages of employee electronic monitoring, most scholars, such as Mirshra and Crampton, Doherty and Morris, suggest that companies should establish sound and clear monitoring policies due to lack of legislation. Jitendra M. Mirshra and Suzanne M. Crampton point out that when considering the use of monitoring systems, "employers should notify employees that they may be monitored and periodically remind employees and management of the policy" (8). If companies do not have a monitoring policy, they are at risk for lawsuits (Doherty 6). Lawsuits and exposure liabilities can be avoided when "employers take steps to draft and implement common sense policies and practices, educate employees about their expectations and enforce policies in an even handed way" (Morris 11). Agreeing with Morris, Cohen also says that a few policies in place could save company headaches in the long run and keep employees away from misrepresenting the organization (4).

Some guidelines in the company handbook for monitoring should include having employees read and sign off on the policy (Cohen 5), only business calls can be monitored, not personal ones, and employees should be involved in setting up procedures for monitoring (Basse 346). More guidelines are provided by Morris, "reevaluate all technology-related policies annually, and adjust them as necessary, and inform all employees of the employer's explicit intention to monitor email, Internet use, and any other use of computers" (11). Because laws that concern privacy protection in the workplace for all intents and purposes are confused, clear guidelines for employee monitoring should be adopted. A sound monitoring policy benefits both employers and employees, which an employee has a guideline on how to use the company's facilities, and an employer are not held responsible for employee's misconduct and invading one's privacy.

Productivity argument, privacy argument, security argument and liability argument related to employee monitoring are discussed by different scholars. Given these arguments, scholars bring out the disadvantages and advantages of employee monitoring. Advocates use individual arguments to argue for or against the adoption of employee monitoring. Business organizations may argue that electronic monitoring of employees benefits employers by increasing efficiencies and profits; it helps to maintain a safe working environment, which benefits employees. On the other hand, employee monitoring causes stress to employees and reduces productivity, such as describes by Basse. Objection occurs primarily based on the principle that privacy cannot be infringed. So as to avoid privacy violations, it is very important to have good reasons and establish clear guidelines when adopting monitoring in the workplace. Privacy issues have always been in place and continue to expand as technology advances. Also, arguments for issues related to employee monitoring are not conclusive.

Works Cited

Basse, Sara. A Gift of Fire. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education, 2002.

Cohen, Sacha. "Thought cop." InfoWorld 23.9 (2001). ProQuest Direct. Oklahoma State University Library. Article 69305561. 26 Sept. 2003 http://80-proquest.umi.com.argo.library.okstate.edu/.

Doherty, Sean. "Monitoring and privacy: Is your head still in the sand?" Network Computing 12.13 (2001). ProQuest Direct. Oklahoma State University Library. Article 74828549. 26 Sept. 2003 http://80-proquest.umi.com.argo.library.okstate.edu/.

Higgins, Michael. "High Tech, Low Privacy." ABA Journal 85 (1999). ProQuest Direct. Oklahoma State University Library. Article 41064004. 26 Sept. 2003 http://80-proquest.umi.com.argo.library.okstate.edu/.

Holtz, Shel. "Employee Online: The Productivity Issue." Communication World 18.2 (2001). ProQuest Direct. Oklahoma State University Library. Article 69631212. 26 Sept. 2003 http://80-proquest.umi.com.argo.library.okstate.edu/.

Lane, Frederick S III. Naked employee: how technology is compromising workplace privacy. New York: AMACOM, 2003.

Martin, Kristen and R Edward Freeman. "Some problems with employee monitoring." Journal of Business Ethics 43.4 (2003). ProQuest Direct. Oklahoma State University Library. Article 355838881. 10 Oct. 2003 http://80-proquest.umi.com.argo.library.okstate.edu/.

Miller, Seumas and John Weckert. "Privacy, the Workplace and the Internet." Journal of Business Ethics 28.3 (2000). ProQuest Direct. Oklahoma State University Library. Article 64832228. 26 Sept. 2003 http://80-proquest.umi.com.argo.library.okstate.edu/.

Mishra, Jitendra M and Suzanne M Crampton. "Employee Monitoring: Privacy in the Workplace?" S.A.M.Adavanced Management Journal 63.3 (1998). ProQuest Direct. Oklahoma State University Library. Article 34124797. 26 Sept. 2003 .

Morris, Frank C Jr. "The Electronic Platform: Email and Other Privacy Issues in the Workplace." Computer and Internet Lawyer 20.8 (2003). ProQuest Direct. Oklahoma State University Library. Article 380155941. 26 Sept. 2003. http://80-proquest.umi.com.argo.library.okstate.edu/.

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