Dealing with Employee Privacy Issues

employee privacyMost workplaces make no secret of the fact that employees have no right to privacy when it comes to anything they do at the workplace, particularly when it comes to their computers: According to a 2007 study by American Management Association and the ePolicy Institute, two-thirds of companies monitor their employees’ Internet use to prevent them from visiting unauthorized sites.

Even so, employees often become angry, and may feel violated, if they discover that their supervisors have been monitoring their email messages or the websites that they visit. This can cause serious damage to workplace relationships, and may even lead to a lawsuit in rare circumstances.

In order to make your company’s policies absolutely clear to employees before they do something online that they might regret, try these strategies.

  1. Host a seminar to discuss privacy issues in the workplace. If the company makes a habit of monitoring all websites visited or tracks employees’ keystroke actions, clearly explain these situations. Employees may be surprised to learn that even email written from their personal accounts may not be considered private.
  2. Let employees know when they’re being monitored. While companies generally have the legal right to track their workers’ on-the-job performance, employees will appreciate it if they have advance knowledge of when the monitoring will occur. If you plan to monitor an employee’s phone calls for several hours, inform him that morning; if your company is planning to track all employees’ online activity, send out a company-wide memo about it.
  3. Offer alternatives. When employees are on breaks, it’s important for them to have the opportunity to communicate with friends and family without fear of office interference. In most cases, they will be able to use their own cell phones for this purpose, but it may also be helpful to offer a “non-work” computer terminal that employees can use for personal communications, which will not be monitored.

Everyone can have very strong opinions about privacy. Being clear with all of your employees will make everyone much more comfortable.

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