Matt Herndon | , , ,| By
When employees feel like their boss is constantly keeping tabs on them, it puts them on edge. So when an employer actively monitors employees’ Internet activity, it can create an air of resentment – along with sticky ethical and legal questions.
Employers are allowed to monitor their own equipment to track employee performance or detect inappropriate behavior. But there are right and wrong ways to go about monitoring employees. Read on to learn more.
Best practices for monitoring employee performance
If you plan to monitor employees, you should explain that clearly in your company handbook. Provide details about how equipment may be monitored, as well as who is authorized to monitor activity, and have employees sign an acknowledgment of the policy.
State your respect for personal privacy, too. If you catch an employee using his work laptop to gamble online all day, that information should be kept confidential to avoid any legal missteps.
Having a solid policy about what is and is not acceptable use of company equipment puts the burden on the employee to prove you violated his rights, should he ever decide to pursue that claim in court.
Some monitoring activities could actually help workers, so if that’s the case in your industry, point that out. For example, in the trucking industry, electronic driver logs help employers keep tabs on drivers, but primarily for safety reasons. Employers can track logs to determine whether a driver is trying to cover too many miles, or isn’t getting adequate rest in between jobs. In that respect, this type of tracking isn’t too dissimilar from a standard punch-clock.
Tracking productivity is OK; stalking an employee’s social media profiles to see if she’s talking about you crosses a line.
The National Labor Relations Board prohibits employers from punishing workers for comments they may make on social media about workplace conditions or wages. So even if you do find that 90 percent of an employee’s status updates are about how much she hates her job, there’s nothing you can do about it. So why even look?
The need for objectivity
One of the best ways to avoid uncomfortably awkward scenarios is to have software – not a person – monitor employee activity. Software can capture the information you need – such as the amount of time spent surfing the Internet – without getting too personal. You can also block distracting and/or inappropriate websites, before employees visit them.
Keep in mind that even if workers are spending time on Facebook or Twitter during the day, they could very well be doing so for networking purposes that may ultimately benefit your business. So think about what kind of Internet activity really constitutes goofing off. And be understanding of the fact that not all employees work the same way. Whereas one person may need plenty of breaks to be productive throughout the day, another person may prefer to keep to himself, quietly plugging away at tasks.
Before you bring the hammer down on someone for loafing around on company time, look at overall productivity to determine whether that activity is even affecting output.