Legal, Ethical and Managerial Concerns of Employee Monitoring

Legal, Ethical and Managerial Concerns of Employee Monitoring

Employee monitoring is a common phenomenon in today’s personnel management. It refers to the scrutiny of how the organization’s employees utilize employer resources during the working hours. Another aspect of employee monitoring involves monitoring the location of employees to ensure that they are at the right place at the right time. The law allows the employer to monitor their employees. However, there are ethical issues that place the whole exercise in serious scrutiny by affected parties. This controversy further complicates management in terms of handling the issue to the satisfaction of the employee while protecting the interests of the company.

The most common form of employee monitoring is by use of electronic monitoring. The employer keeps watch and reviews telephone and computer usage by the employees. Due to the advancement of technology, this exercise has been made easy by use of special employee monitoring computer software like Spector Pro. These tract communication through email, block websites or monitor communication on social networks (Harbert, 2010). Additionally, the applications tract internet traffic from all working stations, keep keystrokes records, period of browsing sessions and record all URLs accessed from the company computers. Recording phone calls made from the office, keeping text messages exchanged at work and tracking the location of the employee using GPS are other technology powered means of employee monitoring.

Legal Concerns

Even though employees feel uncomfortable being monitored, the law empowers the employer to control how the organization’s equipment is used. The employer seeks to distance himself from legal liabilities that could arise as a result of employees visiting certain sites whether knowingly or inadvertently. The employer can also be made responsible for any internet activities that employees get involved with using company equipment.

Federal law allows employers to monitor activities at work that make use of telephones and computer related information sharing, only under certain conditions or circumstances. For example, the Omnibus Crime Control outlaws any form of interception of electronic based communications (Minch and Kaupins 2005). In contrast, the Wiretap Act allows interception where consent is admitted or the act is legitimately recognized to be of interest to the business.

The courts receive a lot of cases involving employee monitoring. A balance has to be met between the interests of both the employee and the employer when settling these cases. Some employees will claim that they used the telephone to confirm their family members were safe in the wake of recent terrorist threats. The company on the other hand will argue that this represents inappropriate use of resources without necessarily considering whether the threat was actually there. Basically, the courts recognize that there are business circumstances that justify an employer to monitor personal calls. Tracking stored emails and voicemails is not strictly regulated and hence acceptable legally.

Ethical Issues

Ethics as a discipline serves to define what is morally right in the society. Even though the law recognizes employee monitoring as legal, this is by no means a justification that it is morally right. Privacy for example, does not have to be taken for granted simply because one is an employee of a company. Other ethical issues expressed by both the employee include security, accuracy, and inconsistency among others. Some of these concerns either justify or demystify employee monitoring (Kreie & Cronan, 2007).

Companies will monitor employee activity so as to prevent them from giving confidential information to competitors, customers or other unauthorized parties through emails. Physical monitoring can also be used as a tool to prevent employees from disclosing such information to competitors. Employers want to maximize employee productivity by ensuring that all resources including time and equipment are channeled to perform intended purposes. Although technology has improved productivity in many ways, it has also paved way for laxity in collective performance as employees avoid individual responsibility. Monitoring can also help to stop sexual harassment around and outside the workplace.

Intrusion to privacy is a major cause of opposition. Should employees be monitored during lunch breaks? Tracking an employee’s trip to a competitor’s premises is not justifiable especially if such trip is not business related. Such privacy disregards could be viewed as oppressive. This may create a hostile job environment that could even force some employees to quit. Some tracking devices used could be faulty or subject to malicious manipulations hence giving incorrect information. Inconsistencies in who should be punished, what punishments are appropriate or what and what should not be punished also pose major challenges to employee monitoring. It is not ethically acceptable to secretly monitor an employee without their knowledge or consent. Better still, it would make sense if all tracking records are made available to the concerned employees.

Managerial Elements

When evaluating employee performance, counting keystrokes and monitoring calls can be applied. In some cases, it lowers productivity when stress levels increase and widespread opposition are witnessed. Fairness in enforcement of set monitoring procedures is also a managerial issue. Equal treatment in management of personnel is paramount to create healthy relationships among employees. A secretary should not be discriminated because their position is deemed as an entry level with limited options or less bargaining power.

Solutions to Ethical, Legal and Managerial Concerns

No one enjoys being spied upon. For this reason, employee monitoring needs to be addressed by involving all the parties affected during creation of related policies. These policies need to be relayed clearly to all employees especially during ethics training. Some companies even appoint ethics officers. Employees should be given all the reasons that pertain to the interests of the business as to why monitoring is necessary (Minch and Kaupins 2005). Penalties applicable to violations related to monitoring policies should also be given. It is important to ensure that monitoring remains strictly work-related. The policies should be reasonable concerning the extent of personal use of company resources and the punishments associated. Building trust would invalidate monitoring since employees would understand that they have a responsibility to protecting the company’s equipment and resources. Monitoring becomes even easier to implement when consent is sought. Employees should be asked to sign these policies during training so that they are aware that they are being monitored during working hours.

Excessively intrusive monitoring tools can elicit undesired perception about the employer (Alder, 2005). Therefore, the employer should seek to hit a balance between protecting the company and the privacy of the employees (Minch and Kaupins 2005). In other words, the exercise should only be allowed to the extent that is necessary so as to protect the interests of the employees too.

Although emails are supposed to be official, some companies allow limited time during working hours to be spent on non-business related exchange of messages (Harbert, 2010). Employees should understand emails can be retrieved, intercepted and scanned. Armed with this knowledge, inappropriate comments, abusive language, misplaced jokes or discriminatory messages can be eliminated among employees in an organization (Harbert, 2010).

Despite the concerns highlighted, employee monitoring remains a noble idea. Technological advancement is continually improving the exercise. This and the fact that communication is enhanced by monitoring should be tangible stimuli to necessitate further research on the topic (Minch and Kaupins 2005). Any research aimed at mitigating these concerns is welcome because monitoring is an indispensable management tool. However, the desired results of employee monitoring can only be achieved if conducted in accordance with legal and ethical measures.


Alder, G. (2005). Ethical issues in electronic performance monitoring: a consideration of deontological and teleological perspectives. Journal of Business Ethics, 17, 729-744.

Harbert, T. (2010). Employee Monitoring: When IT is asked to spy. Retrieved from:

Kreie, J. & Cronan, T. P. (2007). Making ethical decisions: Association for Computing Machinery. Communications of the ACM, 43 (12), 66-71.

Minch, R., & Kaupins, G. (2005). Legal and Ethical Implications of Employee Location Monitoring”. Retrieved from:




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