Seven Legal Ways American Bosses Can Spy On Employees

Forget the NSA. Your boss may be spying on you – and it’s not in the interest of national security. Your employer may be reading your email, capturing your keystrokes, monitoring your phone conversations, tracking your location, and even determining how often you’re washing your hands.

It’s perfectly legal, because, well, you work for them and their company. And this gives them the right to snoop through your communications and monitor your activities. After all, you’re working in their building and using their computer, phone, company vehicle, network, etc. The company is also paying you to perform a service, and they have the right to determine if you’re keeping your end of the bargain, or if you’re spending company time surfing the Internet or texting messages to your love interest.

They also have a right to know if you’re doing anything that could jeopardize their reputation or their profits, such as sending inappropriate emails or questionable Facebook posts and tweets from their accounts. And, if you’re downloading company information without authorization or a legitimate reason, they have a legal right to know that as well. In addition, they have a right to discover if you’re lying. Like the employees who call in sick for an entire week, and post Facebook photos from the Bahamas during the same time frame.

While employers should inform you what they’re doing, this could be as vague as a single sentence buried on page 98 of your employee handbook that reads, “Employees should have no expectation of privacy on company equipment.” That’s all they’re legally required to tell you. Your boss is under no obligation to explicitly bring the company’s monitoring to your attention or explain what it entails.

Most people are aware of video surveillance, but these are some of the other ways that your boss may be legally spying on you:

7 Monitoring Email Correspondence

Hopefully, you’ve already learned from the scandal involving General David Petraeus that sending personal email from your work account is never a good idea. Although he worked for Big Brother, the same rules apply in the private sector. The only way to keep your personal business personal is to keep it out of the workplace – and this includes the electronic workplace environment. You shouldn’t be receiving or forwarding vulgar jokes, or anything that could be perceived as sexist, racist, or otherwise offensive.

You also shouldn’t expect the company to support your side interests. In a 2011 court case in the State of Georgia, the court upheld an employer’s right to investigate when he walked by a worker’s computer and saw that the computer screen had a non work-related email open. This led the company to discover that this employee was using company resources to help his wife operate a personal business. The court ruled that the employee had to pay damages for breach of the duty of loyalty.

6 Keeping Tabs On Computer Files

Computer files that are stored on company computers or even transmitted via the company’s network are fair game for your employer to see. You can bet they’re probably monitoring these files to ensure that employees are not downloading company documents and other sensitive information. And while you may not be guilty of corporate espionage, it’s probably not a good idea to keep your resume and cover letters on company computers, since that’s more than a subtle hint that you’re looking for another job.

Other personal files, such as divorce documents, bankruptcy filings, or your brother’s DUI conviction, shouldn’t be stored or transmitted using company equipment either, since you never know who may be reading your information and judging your character based on the contents.

5 Listening To Phone Calls

If you’re using a company phone, your boss can also legally listen to and even record phone conversations, voice mail messages, and text messages. Many companies monitor phone conversations to gauge and make improvements to an employee’s customer service skills. However, if you’re using a company phone, assume that all of your phone calls, including those you place to your doctor’s office to get your test results, or those you receive from your ex spouse regarding child support payments, may also be monitored by the company as well. As a result, you shouldn’t say or text anything on a company phone that you wouldn’t want your company to know.

4 Watching Off-Duty Activities

Comments that you make on Facebook, Twitter, or even a  personal blog can be grounds for firing you, even if these posts were off-duty. The First Amendment is not a blanket protection to say whatever you want. Workers may be protected from being disciplined or fired for their political views, or if they’re whistleblowers being retaliated against. However, if your content doesn’t fall within these categories, it may not be wise to test your legal rights at the expense of your job.

3 Tracking With GPS

If you use a company vehicle, your boss can legally use GPS to track you. After all, it’s the company’s vehicle, so they have to right to know where the car is at all times. And many companies install GPS tracking devices on laptops, and enable these devices on smartphones, so they can tract their equipment in the event of theft. However, once these tracking features are installed and enabled, they can be used at anytime.

2 Using ID Badges

Even an ID badge can provide a wealth of information about you. According to Ben Waber, the CEO of the data collection firm Sociometric Solutions, radio frequency identification (RFID) chips placed in employees badges can monitor their location, and tell where they go on their breaks and who they interact with. In addition, sociometrics software can also monitor live-stream voice tones and intonations to determine how employees talk to one another.

1 Monitoring Handwashing Frequency

Yep. Your boss can legally track your hand washing frequency. This is more likely to happen if you work in the healthcare industry. General Electric developed a system that tracks how often doctors, nurses, and other health providers wash their hands before and after seeing patients. Using real-time location sensor technology attached to staff badges and sanitizer dispensers, employers can determine if workers wash their hands within 30 seconds of entering a patient’s room.

Other hospitals are using motion sensors that detect when someone enters an intensive care room, and automatically start a video camera to record the employee’s handwashing practices. According to a study at one hospital, when employees didn’t know that they were being monitored, they only washed their hands 10 percent of the time. However, when the hospital began notifying them that their actions were being recorded, hand washing rates jumped to 88 percent.

However, 20 percent to 40 percent of hospital-acquired infections are transmitted to patients by hospital employees. And if that number seems high, it’s probably because only 55 percent of health care providers exercise proper hand hygiene, according to two recent studies on infection control. So this may be one of the best reasons to justify spying on employees.

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