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How Your Boss Can Monitor You at Work

Posted Jun 27 2012 - 2:58pm

Think before you…email and call?
While your mother told you to think before you speak, many employers would rather you think before you use company time to surf the internet or chat on the phone. But at a time when there are just so many ways to communicate, which ones are off limits in the workplace?

Email

You may have been warned to watch what you say about your boss or your place of work on your Facebook or Twitter pages—i.e., do not post your Facebook status as “I hate my boss!”— but you definitely shouldn’t bash them on the email account they’re providing you! Like your mother told you, if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

According to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse employers can—and often do—monitor your email accounts: “If an electronic mail (e-mail) system is used at a company, the employer owns it and is allowed to review its contents.” Typically this only concerns emails sent from a work email account and not your personal email accounts.

Dennis Devlin, Assistant VP of Information Security and Compliance Services at Brandeis University, doesn’t monitor his employees’ behavior, including emails, but says that as a general rule, email and work produced on the job are the property of a company and not the employee: “Email is an institutional resource, and it’s expected that it’s not abused and used exclusively for personal purposes.”

This means that Brandeis University, like any other business, can look at employees’ emails or documents from their computer in rare circumstances, especially after receiving a request from law enforcement or a request from the legal department.

However, Devlin says employers can only access what is public—such as information posted publicly on Facebook—or what they have administrative access to—typically work email servers. This means that employers don’t have access to employees’ personal email accounts such as Gmail.

Like with most businesses, Devlin says this is because computer and the email system are “really resources of the institution, not resources of the individual.”  

Web browsing

bored intern

It goes without saying that you shouldn’t be accessing inappropriate websites while at work, but if you needed some convincing, look no further than the scandal at the Securities and Exchange Commission two years ago. Authorities obtained records showing at least 31 employees who had used company computers to consistently access pornographic websites while at work and during the financial crisis.

And although many don’t make it a practice, your employer can check what websites you’ve been perusing by looking at your computer’s historyif they so choose, so if you’re spending too much time on Facebook over the summer, don’t be surprised if your boss gets a little annoyed!

Phone

If your company gives you a phone and pays for it, make sure you’re not using that text messaging service to send dirty sweet nothings to your significant other.

In Ontario v. Quon, a 2010 case involving a cop and the sexts he sent on a work-issued device, the Supreme Court ruled that the police chief who searched through the employee's phone had not violated the 4th amendment.  

If they so choose, employers can also monitor the phone calls you place and receive on your desk phone, so please don’t call your significant other who just happens to be vacationing in Europe!

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