Guest Blogging

The Fine Line between Monitoring and Spying in a Workspace

For any good manager or employer, it is imperative to know what goes about in their workplace, for obvious reasons.

Such reasons are what help them in combating rather common workplace misconducts like harassment and fraud.

Therefore, keeping their employees under strict surveillance becomes an essential need in order to improve work conditions as well as its efficiency.


Now when a word like “surveillance” comes into play, the discussion about privacy laws is never far behind, since the need to draw boundaries becomes quite important. There is a very fine line between “Monitoring an employee to make sure they are not going about the matters that do not concern them” and “Spying on them in a way that exploits their privacy in the most explicit of ways.”

Rights to Privacy
Even though the employees have a constitutional right to privacy, it is also the right of any employer to know what is going on in their company and how is their company’s property being used. For this purpose an employer is well within his constitutional right to:

  • Put up cameras around the Company.
  • Look into the e-mails logs of their employees.
  • Check the data stored on company computers.
  • Keep track of the company property.
  • Use audio surveillance to keep track of their employees.

What are the Limits?
When rights to invade an employees’ privacy are perfectly within an employer’s constitutional right, still, if the employer is doing something that exploits the right they have been give, the employees can very well level charges against them. Therefore, it is the best interest in of both the parties to know where exactly their limits lie.

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Audio Surveillance
Employers have the right to strictly monitor employees’ phone calls, since these calls are mostly made using company hardware, making wiretapping one of the most effective ways to keep track of on work calls and track an employees’ dedication and effectiveness.

Still, some states require you to obtain consent of the said employee before wiretapping their phones. Likewise, some demand for single-party consent i.e. obtaining employee’s consent before putting them under audio surveillance while others demand for dual-consent, which requires them to inform the person any employee is communicating that they are being monitored. This way a company can avoid any avoid any legal lawsuits by essentially covering all the bases.

Video Surveillance
It may sound quite interesting, but there are fewer restrictions on video surveillance then there are on audio. Ironically, there restrictions are also mostly concerned with the audio element of video restrictions. According to federal as well as state laws, an employer can place their employees under video surveillance as long as it is video only (no audio) and it does not offensively invades as individual’s privacy.

Surveillance outside the Office
Now this one is the most contentious aspect of monitoring, more so than both audio and video which truly blurs the lines of propriety that differentiates monitoring from spying. Here, there are some aspects of surveillance that makes it okay to monitor employees outside of office, such as:

  • When employees use company automobiles, placing a track on the said automobiles is well within a company’s constitutional rights.
  • A cellular device sanctioned by the company that is being used by the employee.
  • A camera on the company cash drawer.
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But, there are other places where it is inappropriate to monitor employees, putting it clearly within the realms of spying. These instances include:

  • Placing a camera in the employee locker or changing room.
  • Placing a surveillance camera in the rest rooms and cafeteria.
  • Attaching a tracker to employee’s personal automobile.

Under any of the stated circumstances, an employer enters rocky territory which makes the need for seeking legal counsel quite necessary, especially when surveillance results in some sort of an employment action.

Treading the Blurred Lines of Privacy
There are many instances where common sense is enough for an employer to determine where he is allowed to monitor his employees and where he isn’t. Still, some circumstances make it quite hard to discern what to do and what not to.

For example, if an employer is considering putting up cameras in the rest rooms, any sane person would consider it an invasion of privacy. But, if an employer suspects the said rest room to be the ground zero for a crime, would he still be wrong to do so?

Therefore, it is in the best interests of the employer to look into what is appropriate, both morally and lawfully before deciding to put their employees under surveillance.

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