The modern workplace has transformed into a very different place from the workplace that existed a few years ago, and this change has mostly been ushered in by technology. Businesses and other commercial pursuits used these changes to better integrate their working environment and to make it more efficient in terms of the profits. In order to ensure that their workforce is working to the best of their abilities, the modern employers have taken liberty to monitor employees via cell phones, computer monitoring, video cameras, and voice recorders placed around the office. Naturally, a legal storm has been created by this issue which has been called unconstitutional by employees and other activist groups while the employers are pushing the idea that it is their legal right to monitor the workplace. This particular issue is still surrounded by controversy but gradually the perception about employee monitoring is being accepted at some levels and rejected at others. Is cell phone monitoring of employees a legitimate tool to keep a check on the workforce and guard vital business interests?
What’s The Fuss About?
“Is it legal to use mobile phone spy software in the workplace?” is probably one of the most frequently asked questions around the workplace. The best part about this issue is that the legal system of the United States (US) is scantily armed against the problem that has come to prominence with the rise of mobile communication technology. There are some laws that support employee monitoring but then there are other laws that talk about the right to privacy for all citizens.
Countries around the world have different laws in connection to employers monitoring the activities of their employers and in the US different states have different laws regarding the privacy of citizens, thus making the entire affair rather confusing for most people.
Arguments for Mobile Phone Monitoring
An employer can track and monitor a company mobile phone provided to an employee for professional use only. According to some legal clauses, if the employer owns the cell phone provided to the employee, the former has the right to monitor the said mobile phone after informing the worker that the phone is being monitored. Employers could choose from a variety of monitoring software such as www.mobistealth.com/mobile-phone-spy-software. Employers also believe that it is their right to monitor the work environment to make it efficient, productive, and profitable, which is not an entirely wrong argument.
What the US Law Says About This Issue
Can an employer listen to the phone calls of his/her employee? In most cases the answer is yes.
In the light of the local law, employers have the right to monitor calls with clients or customers to ensure that a certain level of quality control is maintained. In the case of California, the state law says that all parties should be informed that the conversation is being recorded or monitored by either putting a beep tone on the official line or playing a recorded message. (California Public Utilities Commission General Order 107-B, www.cpuc.ca.gov/Published/Graphics/567.pdf)
Further, there are those businesses that may choose to monitor mobile phone calls of employees without informing them first. The US Federal Law that is related to the regulation of phone calls with people outside the state allows monitoring for business-related calls without informing anyone. (Electronic Communications Privacy Act, 18 USC 2510, et. Seq)
One of the few exceptions to mobile phone monitoring under the federal case law is that an employer must immediately stop monitoring a call if he/she realizes that the nature of the call is personal (Watkins v. L.M. Berry &Co., 704 F.2d 577, 583 (11th Cir. 1983)). An employer can continue monitoring personal calls if he/she has made it clear to the employee that he/she could not make personal calls from the company phone.
Arguments against Mobile Phone Monitoring
Lewis Maltby, president of the National Workrights Institute, says that the modern workplace is strangling the privacy rights of a large number of employees as around 94% of companies in the US monitor their employees, according to a Bentley School of Business Ethics survey. Maltby further said, “The typical ‘notice’ says that the company reserves the right to monitor anything and everything. Very few employers tell employees what they actually monitor or how they do it.”
Anti-monitoring groups are adamant that the monitoring systems installed at workplaces could be abused by those employees who are responsible for running these systems, for instance the IT team. In relation to this issue Maltby said, “If an employee reports that she has received sexually harassing email from a co-worker, any responsible employer will read relevant email messages as part of its investigation. The problem is that most employers place no controls on monitoring. Any IT employee can monitor any other employee in the company for any reason without anyone’s permission. IT employees privately admit that they routinely snoop on other employees for fun. One IT tech told me, ‘It’s like being in a locked room with every else’s diary; what do you expect us to do?’”
“The other major issue is monitoring employees when they are off-duty,” Maltby said. “Some employers use GPS to monitor company issued cell phones at all times, even during the employees private life. There have also been occurrences of laptop webcams being secretly activated,” he added.
For now, all we can say is that this issue would test the limits of employers and employees since both these parties are right to some extent when one calls for safeguarding privacy while the other believes that such privacy doesn’t exist in the workplace. Presently, employees are becoming accustomed to monitoring by employers and the practice is not being frowned upon as had happened in the past. We have to wait and see how