Thoughts on Workplace Privacy

June 27, 2014

Being able to track employees for productivity or mischief sounds appealing. But like anything else, it depends on the use case and the intent of the employer.

I read about the trend in software to quantitatively monitor the workplace in the recent Sunday New York Times and it gave me reason to pause.

The NYT piece quotes an example of a restaurant looking for employee fraud that made an unintended discovery instead – its ability to identify the most productive restaurant servers – with a favorable consequence and happy ending.

The NYT report noted one purveyor of workplace surveillance “advises companies using sensor-rich ID badges worn by employees. These sociometric badges, equipped with two microphones, a location sensor and an accelerometer, monitor the communications behavior of individuals — tone of voice, posture and body language, as well as who spoke to whom and for how long.” Employees must opt into the system and no conversations may be recorded. The whole idea reminded me of adding “more flair” to the movie Office Space.

“small businesses need to be educated about employee tracking and know where to draw the line”.

Humor aside, small businesses need to be educated about employee tracking and know where to draw the line. What is commonplace to track and not track? What obligations do you have to inform your employees?

This is an area changing and evolving just as our technology is.

Here are a few thoughts and considerations:

1) Be aware of all your legal responsibilities. An employer can be held responsible for illegal acts. Call an attorney and set up some basic guidelines.

2) Be upfront with your newly hired employees. Just tell them that in this day and age you’re going to want security of all data, and want them to be doing their job, not surfing the Net on your dime.

3) Consider policies that you want to apply in your workplace.  You might have new employees sign a document, stating that their Internet and smartphone activity will be monitored. Being straightforward out of the starting gate helps. Having a policy in place helps and is much more straightforward than making rules in reverse.

4) Be careful about monitoring employees and ensure you are complying with all laws and notice requirements.  Do your research on what tracking is legal and viable in your area, this can including tracking, call and computer monitoring.

5) As always, employers should consult legal counsel for advice before implementing employee tracking processes.


Here are a few resources to learn more on the topic, including the non-profit Privacy Rights Clearinghouse and Harvard Law.

Here at AVG, we feel it’s important for people to realize that when it comes to data privacy – from interactions with employees and clients/customers, to CCTV, to digital footprints and millennials not seeming to grasp the ramifications of social media – privacy is going to be a major issue in the coming years, and beyond.  It’s time for all of us to get wise.

June 27, 2014