Big brother may be watching you more than you think. In the past four years, the active and admitted monitoring of workers has jumped from 35 percent to almost 80 percent, mainly due to more businesses using 21st century systems like cloud computing, web based voice mail, and other internet applications. With company margins stretched thin, you company wants to squeeze as much value out of you as they can and not only that, some companies are required to keep detailed records of your activity with sensitive material.

Although companies don’t monitor activities all the time, they do randomly sample the activities of their employees. Are these activities legal, ethical, and necessary? Almost everyone would like to believe that their privacy remains sacred at work much like it is at home but in reality, the more employees share space, cubicles and networked computers, the harder it is to maintain personal privacy. Still, though, is it legal?

Why Do Companies Monitor Their Workforce?

Some companies legitimately monitor you for business reasons, not simply to snoop through your life. According to The American Management Association there are five justifiable reasons that your employer can monitor you at work. First, to make sure that you are legally complying with their standards. For instance, if you are a telemarketer, your employer may record your transactions and store the information to keep adequate and accurate files should they require documentation or evidence in the future.

Next, for compliance. Your employer may be held legally accountable if there is inappropriate, graphic, or offensive material on your computer that is offensive to another employee. They must consistently monitor what their employees are looking at to avoid any potential lawsuits or discriminatory cases.

Third, quality control. Companies monitor their employees, particularly those who are in customer service or human resources positions, by recording phone calls. These calls are later reviewed to evaluate the performance of the employee and sometimes award bonuses or promotions.

Next, to gauge employee efficiency. If you’re using company time to peruse your favorite social networking sites, making personal phone calls, or doing your holiday shopping, your company isn’t getting a good return on their invest.

Finally, there are security concerns that may cause an employer to watch you. For some businesses, corporate information is confidential and must be monitored closely. Medical facilities must comply with HIPAA regulations and even schools and other similar facilities have FERPA regulations that protect the privacy of children. Employers are required to take actionable, verifiable steps to comply with these regulations. Similarly, many public employees’ e-mail correspondence is a matter of public record.

How do Employers Spy on You?

While 90 percent of companies who admit to spying on their employees admit that their workers are aware of it, others may not provide the same courtesy to their employees. In fact, you may feel that any type of monitoring is a violation of your privacy. Some businesses go so far as to utilize tools to test how honest you are, a “virtual lie detector” of sorts.

Emails are monitored, screenshots are captured, and phone lines are tapped so that the employer knows anything and everything that transpires in the workplace. What happens with this information? The company may use it for or against you, or they may even hand it over to agencies above them to use at their discretion. Some feel that the government may also be stepping up their efforts to monitor Americans and can use this information to do so.

There are certainly companies who are spying on their employees for less than legitimate reasons but when you are using company computers and networks, what you say and do becomes their business if they want it to be.

Bottom Line

If you’re worried about your privacy at work, use your breaks for personal business and do not say or type anything personal using company equipment. As long as you do that, your privacy is maintained. Also, ask for your company’s internet usage policy. They should disclose what they are watching.