Can Employers Monitor Employees in the Workplace?

As technology has advanced, it has become more and more common for employers to electronically monitor employees in the workplace. In addition, the tools that employers have to monitor employees have become more sophisticated, allowing extensive tracking of an employee’s activities throughout the workday. But are there any limits on this authority, and what can happen when an employer crosses the line?

What Does it Mean When an Employer Monitors an Employee?

When employers monitor employees, it rarely involves directly looking over their shoulder. Instead, employers will typically use electronic surveillance, which allows them to track employee activities throughout the day. This could include tracking their movements in the workplace, monitoring their email or other online communications, tracking social media activity, tracking internet traffic, or even using keyloggers to track keystrokes.

Why Do Employers Monitor Their Employees?

In theory, employers monitor employees to make sure they are not fooling around on the job, or engaging in other activities that are not related to work. In practice, though, many employers will happily use electronic monitoring to curtail attempts at labor organizing, or to track communications between employees who complain about their work environment. While this is not strictly a legitimate use of this technology, access to that sort of information can give employers an advantage when they are trying to prevent unionization at their workplace.

When is This Type of Monitoring Legal?

    Broadly speaking, employers are permitted to monitor employees whenever they are working, or whenever they are using an employer-provided device, such as a computer or cell phone. This includes monitoring remote employees working from home. However, this monitoring must be done in accordance with a “business related purpose,” meaning that they can only legally monitor an employee when it serves a legitimate business interest.

When Does This Become Illegal?

Employers can cross the line in a number of different ways. The first is when they monitor employees outside of business hours, when they are not on the business premises and not using company devices. The second is when they monitor employees for reasons not related to legitimate business activities, such as by trying to curtail labor organizing. Employers can also cause problems for themselves if they do not have a well-defined policy on the use of surveillance technology before they attempt to monitor their employees. That is why you may want to speak to a lawyer if you believe your employer has crossed a line when it comes to monitoring their employees.

If you have gotten into a legal dispute with your employer, it is important that you seek the guidance of an experienced New York employment lawyer who can protect your legal rights and advocate on your behalf. Steven Mitchell Sack, the Employee’s Lawyer, is a New York employment lawyer with more than 40 years’ experience handling the many aspects of employment law. To schedule an appointment with New York City employment lawyer Steven Mitchell Sack, call (917) 371-8000 or visit his contact page.

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