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How Your Boss Can Monitor You at Work

So you’ve finally landed the internship or job of your dreams. It’s your first day, and you’re probably already feeling on cloud nine, but then your supervisor sets you up with your own official email address. Right about now you’re feeling like a big shot and just can’t resist sending your best friend an email from your new account to let her know how yourday’s going. 

Your friend emails you back right away and tells you to get on g-chat to give her a play-by-play of your day. You peek over your shoulder, see that your supervisor’s busy in her office and sign into Gmail. This will be quick, you tell yourself. And you can chat while you’re working, no big deal. After all, what’s the harm in a little g-chat?

But what started out as a quick chat turns into a drawn out conversation and before you know it, you’ve wasted a half hour. Sure, you feel a bit guilty, but what’s the big deal? Well what you deem innocent social networking—an activity that you could easily get away with in a lecture hall of 70 students—may just jeopardize your internship or job.

Whether they tell you or not, employers are monitoring—or are increasingly capable of monitoring—their employees’ behavior on the job, whether by weeding through emails, checking phone logs or even perusing Facebook pages. And now that you—a smart, talented young professional—are making your way into the workforce via internships or first-time jobs, you want to make sure you don’t jeopardize your future at that dream job, right?

To help you transition your behavior from the classroom to the conference room, Her Campus spoke with a few employers to get the scoop on what they can and can’t monitor. 
But I’m only an intern! Does my behavior really count?
You may think that since you don’t benefit from the perks of employment—paycheck, anyone?—and that since you’re the one grabbing coffee or filing all day long that you’re immune from certain workplace rules. But your status as an intern doesn’t necessarily equal automatic immunity from workplace monitoring, my dear.

An employee who handles interns at the Boston branch of the Drug Enforcement Administration and preferred to remain anonymous says that DEA interns aren’t treated any differently than employees, and that means they’re subject to the same background and reference checks before they even start at work. “It’s not that they get any extra scrutiny; it’s just the environment that they’re in,” he says.

He says there’s a disclaimer on DEA computers informing interns, just like all employees, that their behavior on the machines can be monitored. And anyhow, he says, interns know they’re about to become a part of a government company when they start work. “I think when they apply for an internship here, they’re aware they may be under a little bit more scrutiny,” he says.

High School Sports Editor for the Boston Globe Bob Holmes, on the other hand, says the Globe doesn’t really monitor interns or employees: “If the Globe or the New York Times are monitoring [their employees], they do a really good job at not letting us know.”

During the many years he’s worked at the Globe, and the time he spent at the Boston Herald before that, Holmes says he’s never been told that his behavior was being monitored. But then again, his desk is out in the open and when you work in a newsroom, your boss can sneak up behind you at any moment. So if you’re reading your personal email or shopping online, there’s a good chance you’re going to get caught.

Even though the Globe doesn’t make it a practice to monitor employees, Holmes suggests his interns practice common sense when it comes to engaging in personal activity on the job. And when it’s busy in the office, he says, interns should be focusing on the assignment at task, rather than getting distracted by IMs, emails, or the like.

“If one of [the interns] is not paying attention because they’re messing around with the computer, it doesn’t work for the other three; it makes it a lot more difficult for them,” Holmes says. “To that extent, that’s really the only monitoring we do.”
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?


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

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!


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!

There’s networking and then there’s social networking

Will you be my friend? Not during the workday…

Everyone always encouraged you to network on the job, right? Well they didn’t mean social networking—as in, checking your Facebook and Twitter pages every five minutes. Programs like SocialLogix help employers monitor their employees’ use of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

That means that employers can determine just how much time you’re spending on your social network accounts during the workday and what you’re doing—or shouldn’t be doing. So keep the Facebook poking for the off hours, young budding professionals.

Get Smart: Tips on managing your 9-5 behavior

It’s called a personal email account for a reason. If you simply have to send an email during the workday, send it from your Gmail account or from any other personal email address, which your employer likely won’t be able to monitor.

If you’re the lucky owner of an iPhone, Blackberry or other email-sending phone, you likely enjoy the freedom of sending emails just about anytime, anywhere. If you’re concerned that your boss will see you on Gmail during the workday, take a moment to compose an email under your desk or in the restroom, but make it quick!

If you can’t go a few hours without checking the gossip news websites or the latest online sales, eat your lunch at your desk and scroll through the headlines on your smartphone.

Nothing sabotages an attempt at self-control better than a persistent friend or relative, insistent on getting you to answer your phone. So set guidelines with friends and family. If your little sister or mom’s constant telephone calls or texts are getting in the way of you doing your job, let them know that you love them, but that between the hours of 9 a.m. and (you fill in the blank) you have to focus on work.

Know your environment. If your boss leads by example and encourages you to take a few breaks a day, then you shouldn’t feel so bad about texting your friends about what time you’ll meet them for dinner. Just don’t let that text turn into another and another and…well, you know how it goes.

Whatever you do, be professional. If you absolutely must send a personal email from your professional account, make sure you’re not saying anything you wouldn’t want your boss reading. Even if your boss is really Cruella de Vil’s evil twin, she doesn’t want to read that in your email.

Just in case you were wondering, here are the industries most likely to monitor your activity at work, as noted by Yahoo! HotJobs

  • government
  • insurance
  • pharmaceuticals
  • financial services
  • telecommunications

The bottom line is that your bosses aren’t out to “get” you. Just like rules exist in the fashion world to determine what is and isn’t appropriate, there are workplace guidelines for how to conduct yourself. And, truth be told, if you beat out tons of other applicants for a competitive internship or job, you owe it to your boss (and yourself) to prove that you really do belong there.

Many employers don’t monitor their employees, but just because your boss doesn’t tell you you’re being monitored, you’re not necessarily in the clear. Many employers monitor your behavior whether or not you know it, so the bottom line is this: act professionally and be smart about what you do at work.

However, your bosses are humans too, and that means they’ll likely understand if you take five minutes out of your day to run to the restroom or get a breath of fresh air.  And no one is going to begrudge you an emergency phone call—just make sure your emergency is a valid one and not a last-minute sample sale downtown!  


Bob Holmes, high school sports editor for the Boston Globe

Dennis Devlin, Chief Information Security Officer at Brandeis University

Boston branch of the Drug Enforcement Administration


Privacy Rights

New York Times


Chrissy Callahan is a double major in journalism and media studies (self-designed) and French and Francophone studies at Brandeis University, graduating December 2010. A Medford, Mass. native, she works in Brandeis' Department of Creative Services, helping edit and maintain the Brandeis website. Before writing and interning for Her Campus, Chrissy was features editor for the student newspaper the Brandeis Hoot for three years. When she's not hard at work, you're most likely going to find Chrissy indulging her passion for shopping, wearing way too much pink, or eating cookie dough ice cream. She also enjoys traveling, and dreams of traveling to Paris frequently for her future career. After graduating, Chrissy hopes to get a job in beauty or fashion journalism.