Employees Have Accepted Their Big Brother


Have we finally reached the point where employees not only accept, but actually like when their employers monitor their computer activities? Really? Well, maybe “like” is a bit of a stretch still, but employees have apparently accepted it. At least according to a survey just issued by SpectorSoft.

The survey was conducted with 300 full-time employees over the age of 18 in the fourth quarter of 2012, and revealed some interesting points. First, some very stark graphics were used to illustrate the reason underlying employers’ desire to monitor in the first place. Companies with at least 100 employees were found to have “productivity losses of 13,750 hours annually, equivalent to paying seven full time employees to do nothing all year.” And, companies with at least 5,000 employees were found to have “productivity losses of 687,500 hours annually, equivalent to paying 344 employees to do nothing all year.” It is clearly a problem affecting small and large companies, and, either way, crystalizes the need for employers to (lawfully) monitor what their employees are doing during working time.

But the survey also reveals an interesting second side of the ledger: three quarters of all employees surveyed said that they accepted the fact that employers may monitor their computer activities. And beyond that, the “glad” even exceeded the “mad”. That is, while nine percent of employees surveyed said they were mad about being monitored, sixteen percent admitted to being glad that work activities are being monitored by the company. Still a bit to go, but the trend is more than a little noteworthy.

Employer Take Away: What should you as an employer take away from this development?   

Employers may have cleared the first hurdle. The right to privacy was that big, initial objection; that daunting rock wall that employers had to clear at the start of the obstacle course that is e-mail and social media mining. But employees may no longer have an intrinsic objection to the notion of monitoring, at least on basic privacy grounds. Whether that is true acceptance (or even liking it), or merely a resignation to reality, employees are apparently used to it by now, and, in most cases, employers are getting their employees to acknowledge and consent to internal monitoring policies anyway.

There are, however, still hurdles in the way of the finish line, many of which (certainly from an employment law standpoint) cannot be waived by an employee. Understanding the appropriate and lawful monitoring in which you can engage is critical. So is your answer to the following questions:

  • Are you learning too much of the protected class stuff by monitoring e-mail and social media?
  • Are you impermissibly regulating how and when your employees engage in lawful recreational activities protected by state law?
  • Are you monitoring (and recording) time worked by your employees outside of the office through an electronic device or social media, and then paying your employees accordingly?
  • Are you making rash employment decisions based on what an employee does or says on social media?
  • Are you sure the personal device your employee uses to access your company’s e-mail and data is safe from a cyber-attack, or that it can be appropriately “wiped” of confidential information when the employee leaves?
  • Have you given proper thought to these questions in the past month?

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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