Electronic Monitoring In The Workplace Essay, Research Paper
With the advent of the Information Age, a problem has developed between employers and employees over the use of electronic monitoring in the workplace. Electronic monitoring is monitoring employees’ e-mail, computer files, voice mail, telephone use, as well as the use of video and audio surveillance, computer network monitoring, and keystroke monitoring. To employers, the use of electronic monitoring is a very effective management tool to manage employees activities. Employers feel that electronic monitoring offers a shield of corporate security, a means of achieving good performance, and is a necessity for global competitiveness.
On the other hand, many workers frown upon this level of monitoring. Is eyeing an employee’s every move, including in the locker rooms and in the restrooms via video camera, necessary? Is the risk of causing health problems to workers for the sake of meeting numerical figures even considered? Is rating a worker’s job performance based on production alone an accurate means of assessing a worker’s performance? How about the quality of a worker’s performance, isn’t it important as well?
For the most part, courts favor the employers on the issue of electronic monitoring. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (1996) “laws to protect employees require only that employees be treated equally. Employers are, therefore, free to do whatever they wish to their employees as long as they do so in a non-discriminatory manner (p.1). Employees have limited rights concerning electronic monitoring. Union contracts, for example, may limit the employer s right to monitor. Also, public sector employees may have some minimal rights under the U.S. Constitution, in particular the Fourth Amendment which safeguards against unreasonable search and seizure (Center for Public Interest Law, 1994, p.6). The courts seem to weigh the reasonableness of an employee’s expectation to privacy against the legitimate business interests of the employer.
Corporate security is a concern of many employers. Corporate spying and theft can seriously put a corporation at risk. “A business victimized by corporate spying will find itself at a strong competitive and strategic disadvantage” (Cozic, 1994, 64). To employers, monitoring e-mail and computer networks are necessary. “Computers offer ready points for entry for spies, thieves, disgruntled employees, sociopaths, and bored teens. Once they’re in a company’s network, they can steal trade secrets, destroy data, sabotage operations, even subvert a particular deal or career” (Behar, 1997, 2). With the possibility of confidential information being retrieved via the computer network or a corporate spy in the corporation sending confidential information by e-mail to a competitor, electronic computer network monitoring is one shield that may offer employers some protection.
In addition, employee theft is a reality in many businesses that can drive up business costs. From the employers point of view, video surveillance monitoring throughout the business facility can help deter much of this theft. Video surveillance would allow a employer to see an employee s every move inside the facility. If employees are aware of this kind of video surveillance, they would be less inclined to steal or at least be very precautious about stealing.
According to the ACLU (1996) “employers have the right to expect an honest day’s work for a day’s pay. They have a right to set performance standards and expect those standards to be met (p. 3).” The use of Computer Aided Manufacturing is one means of electronic monitoring that enables employers to visually see the performance of their employees, their advanced equipment, and their manufacturing processes. The use of CAM allows managers to monitor vital areas of the manufacturing processes for necessary improvements. With this method of monitoring, managers are able to evaluate whether an employee needs training or whether an employee is fit for the job they were hired to do.
In today s increased global competition, employers of U.S. companies are concerned about bottom line profits and what needs to be done to be competitive with companies of other nations. Employers regard the monitoring method of Computer Aided Manufacturing as a necessary tool to compete globally. It enables employers to manufacture more efficiently by driving costs down and moving quality levels upward. According to Cozic (1994), “if U.S. factories are discouraged from moving forward with C.A.M., then American workers will be the ultimate losers as domestic factories won’t be modernized even as overseas factories become increasingly efficient (p. 66).” With the world becoming more of a global economy, employers want to be well positioned to compete.
On the flip side of this coin, employees have serious concerns also. By pushing employees to meet higher standards through the use of electronic monitoring, their physical health and mental state can suffers. According to the Center for Public Interest Law (1994) “People involved in intensive word processing and data entry jobs may be subject to keystroke monitoring. This system tells the manager how many keystrokes per hour each employee is performing. It also may inform employees if they are above or below the standard number of keystrokes expected. Consequently, keystroke monitoring is now linked to health problems including stress disabilities and physical problems like carpal tunnel syndrome (p. 6). This ailment is a result of repetitive motions of the hands. It is because the human body has a certain tolerance for repetitive and continuous motions that employees believe the use of electronic monitoring to push higher standards should have limits.
Also, as far as mental health is concerned, “Maxine, a customer service representative who quit her job as a result of a serious stress-related illness, described her feelings and those of dozens of hotline callers this way: Monitoring makes you feel like less than a child, less than a human being” (Cozic, 1994, 57). When an employee is stressed mentally by monitoring, undesired working conditions may be created. Paced work, reduced task variety, reduced peer social support, reduced supervisory support, fear of job loss, routine work activities, and lack of control over tasks can produce counterproductive effects to the goal of increasing the efficiency of a given business operation.
Many employees also believe the use of electronic monitoring by employers for evaluation purposes isn’t a totally accurate account of their performance. “A major theme of complaints by monitored workers is that trying to meet numerical figures, over which they have no control and no input, sets up a conflict between giving quality service and keeping the time down. Airline reservation agents receive scores on five different statistics per day; the number of calls handled, average time per call, average time between calls, unmanned time, and overall average. Agents are expected to take 150-200 calls per day with a 96 percent success rating. They may be disciplined for any of the following reasons: Calls longer than three and one half minutes, more than 12 minutes per day of unmanned time, or too long between calls. One agent was put on warning for spending a total 23 seconds-over a full eight hour shift between calls” (Cozic, 1994, 59). With customers having varying needs, some employees view this as a narrow approach in evaluating how they service customers. Some customers may require more attention than others based on the nature of the customers’ call. In addition, employees believe that by employers putting too much emphasis on them making numerical goals, the quality of their performance can be adversely influenced or overlooked. Employees want things like creativity, initiative, leadership, interpersonal skills, and teammanship to be equally included in the evaluation of their performance.
Additionally, employees believe much of the monitoring that goes on by the employers have no relevancy to their job performance. “Several large railroad companies in St. Louis use a system which records the location and length of time employees spend in any part of the building. Workers flash their ID cards through an electronic sensor in each doorway. A computer monitors how long the employees spend in the restroom, the payphone area, the smoking lounge or at a friend’s work station. Sandra, a woman who makes four trips to the bathroom per day, was told by her supervisor that four trips was excessive and that she obviously had a medical problem and needed to see a doctor” (Cozic, 1994, 57). Employees view the amount of time they spend in the restroom to be a very private moment. Many employees feel that if they are performing their jobs well, then why make going to the restroom an issue to begin with. “Employees certainly have a right to privacy when it comes to dealing with problems of a personal nature, as long as they do so on time set aside by their employers and their performance is not affected” (Fineran, 1991, 64). Employees think that there should be a line drawn between monitoring a worker s performance and monitoring the worker.
Employers also want employees to understand their rights to protect their businesses with means best suitable. The suitable means include electronic monitoring which may at times be at odds with employees’ rights to privacy. Cozic (1994) points out that, “Card keys and other authorization measures used by the Department of Defense for security control access to areas containing classified data rely on personal identifying information and, by their very nature, track employee movements (p. 65).”
Employees would like notification from their employers by written, visual, or audible means, which indicates electronic monitoring, practices. According to Cameron (1991) the requirement that employers provide written notification of monitoring systems and visual or aural signals of telephone surveillance will provide urgently needed protections from some of the most serious invasions of privacy (p. 56).
Employers realize to run a successful business enterprise takes good employees. They have to be able to recognize good and bad employees by justly assessing both the employees character and productivity. With the aid of electronic monitoring, employers believe that employees would receive more exposure than they would receive without monitoring. According to Cozic (1994) “such data received from monitoring may assist the employer in assessing an employee’s character, productivity, or loyalty (p. 64).”
Employees, in general, want to do a good job. They want to be evaluated according to balanced standards with the use of electronic monitoring as only one measure of consideration. According to Cozic (1994) “With electronic monitoring, the supervisor is in the machine; watching and counting every minute. This supervisor does not take into account that anyone can have a bad day, a slow start, or a difficult afternoon (p. 58).”
Employers and employees both have valid concerns to the issue of electronic monitoring in the workplace. Care must be taken to avoid infringement on employees’ rights to privacy and well being while maintaining the employers’ rights to benefit from the labor they have hired. Employees must try to understand the security concerns of the employers as well as the employers need to be able to operate their businesses in ways that keep them competitive. On the other hand, employers must seek balanced ways in assessing employees’ performances as well as their benefit to the company by not relying too much on electronic monitoring. Perhaps if both parties will keep the concerns of the other in mind, a happy medium can be found where conditions favorable to both employees and employers are established.
American Civil Liberties Union (1994). The rights of employees. ACLU briefing paper. [Online]. Available: http://www.aclu.org/library/pbp12.html
Behar, Richard (1997). Who s reading your e-mail? [Online]. Fortune. Available: http://pathfinder.com/@@xTsKmgUAwIEk9Rmm/fortune/1997/970203/eml.html
Center for Public Interest Law (1994). Employee monitoring: Is there privacy in the workplace? Fact sheet no. 7. [Online]. Available: http://www.scn.org/fp/p/privacy/prc/workplace.prc.
Cozic, C. (Ed.). (1994). Civil liberties: Opposing viewpoints. San Diego: Greenhaven