Think your privacy is protected at the office? Think again. In fact, if you’re reading this at work, there’s a very good chance that your boss is, too.
While we no longer live in the days when Henry Ford could freely inspect his employees’ homes, technological advances have erased the idea of employee privacy at work.
Employers monitor employees to rate employee performance and to take action to address security risks, fraud and sexual harassment. This means that employees today are exposed to a wide variety of privacy-invasive procedures such as drug and psychological testing, video surveillance, phone monitoring, location tracking, computer monitoring, e-mail filtering, instant message archiving and keystroke logging.
Industries notorious for their extensive practice of employee monitoring include financial services, telecommunications, pharmaceuticals, insurance and government sector jobs. But no workplace is safe from workplace privacy invasions.
How private are your activities at your workplace? Not very. Here are some things you need to know:
Your employer can–and likely does–read your e-mail. More companies than ever are readingemployee email. Nearly three-fourths use technology tools to sort the email, but 40 percent actually have a real person who reads and reviews emails. So if you’re one of the 79 percent of employees who use your work email to send or receive personal message, beware! And you’re not even safe using your personal account on your work computer, since emails are sent through the same server, giving employers access to everything.
Your company probably tracks your phone use. Although the law varies among states, employers often monitor employee phone use. According to a recent surveillance study, 51 percent of companies track the numbers dialed and time spent on the phone, 12 percent record phone conversations, and 8 percent review voicemail messages. Some states don’t require a warning to employees that this extensive monitoring is in effect; you can find out by asking your human resources department.
Your employer may monitor your personal text messages on your company cell phone.Employees of private companies should have no expectation of privacy when using company-issued hand-held communication devices. However, unlike e-mails that are stored on the company server, cell phone companies store text message records–and many companies do not pay for access.Even your IM conversations aren’t sacred. Back in 2005, only 10 percent of companies tracked their employees’ instant messages. However, as IM’s have become more pervasive, more companies are investing in tracking software for IM monitoring.
Your boss can monitor your Facebook account, even if you restrict public viewing. If you access your favorite social media profiles on your work computer, you give your employer instant access to your entire profile. In fact, a recent study reveals that more than 70 percent of corporations have access to employees’ use of social media .
Your employer can access your personal photos, videos, music, and more. Do you ever charge your phone or camera through your work computer? According to Jeffrey Keener, senior security engineerat Guidance, a company that produces company security software, “If you had an iPod or a digital camera charging through the USB port, we could browse all the files that were stored onto the device.”
To top it all off, your boss can probably track your every move. If your workplace has a CCTV (Closed Circuit TV) system, then you are already aware that your every move is being watched. But there are more subtle ways for employers to track your location. Employee IDs and Smartcards force employees to scan their entry throughout the business building, allowing employers to know your exact location and where you are spending your time. Security software also has the ability to track how long you spend away from your computer and the GPS program on your company-issued cell phone can provide your exact location at all times.
When you spend a minimum of 8 hours a day on-the-job, it’s essential that you find some time for yourself, a moment or two to take care of personal business. This freedom is one of the factors that contribute to your overall job satisfaction.
But bear in mind that this workplace “freedom” isn’t guaranteed. With some computer-monitoring programs priced as low as $30, more and more employers see employee monitoring as a valuable investment. So, the next time you decide to surf the Web for non-work related reasons, send a personal email through your work email account or schedule your next doctor’s appointment while at work, just remember that you are likely being watched.