6 Ways Your Employer Can Legally Spy on You

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curious businessman listens with glass leaning against the wallLast year, IKEA France found itself in the hot seat when news of its privacy policies surfaced. The company spent $654,170 on private investigators to spy on its employees. The investigations resulted in Virginie Paulin losing her job in the company after she was reportedly not sick enough to warrant a year’s worth of medical leave.

It’s hard to believe that employees of companies in the United States find themselves facing termination due to workplace investigations; however, another case of an employee being fired for his personal life occurred in Manhattan’s Lacoste store. Top salesman for the company, Wade Groom, was fired for posting a paycheck to his personal Instagram.

The comment he placed with the photo wasn’t negative toward Lacoste and simply expressed his distaste for the living conditions he could afford with the job he held. Though Lacoste wasn’t mentioned, two weeks later, Groom was fired for infringing on the company’s confidentiality agreement. When asked if he signed the agreement or if he remembered any references to social media, he said, “I just clicked ‘accept terms’ on that, you know?”

It’s no mystery that companies have privacy policies in place to keep employees in check; but what can your employer legally include in these agreements?

Here are six legal ways a company can spy on its employees, according to author Donna Ballman:

1.  Monitor searches and social media

Sure, the NSA is looking out for suspicious Google terms, but they aren’t the only ones concerned with your internet habits. Your employer will know if you’re looking at risqué photos or Facebook stalking your coworkers. Additionally, whether it’s a work or personal email, your employer may be reading your inbox.

It all comes down to who is providing the internet you’re using to do these activities. If you’re on company bandwidth, they can check up on your internet activity.

2.  Counting keystrokes

It’s called “keylogging” and there are programs that can be used on your computer to see everything from usernames to passwords. There are parts of The Stored Communication Act and Federal Wiretap Act that may protect a few of your rights; but similar to company bandwidth, if you’re using company hardware, you run the risk of being watched.

3.  They may be listening or even watching your office

It’s pretty common to hear warnings of being “taped for quality assurance” when calling customer service offices. They may not be the only ones having their phone conversations recorded. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, employers eavesdrop on around 400 million telephone calls annually. And while there are some limitations to this action, only 12 states require all parties of a conversation to consent.

But there is a (slight) silver lining in this crowd: When it comes to videotaping, apparently wiretapping laws only apply if they’re also gathering audio.

Just remember, like Mr. Groom (former Lacoste employee), you may have signed consent way back when you put your signature on the employment agreement forms when first hired.

4.  They can weigh in on your hobbies

There was once a time that you didn’t believe your third grade teacher had a life outside of the classroom, but as you grew up, you remembered that your teacher was still a human. Your employer knows you’re human and they may actually care to know what you do to unwind after a day in their office. Depending on their policies, termination could be a result of a crazy night.

5.  They watch their own property, too

When it comes to company phones and vehicles, employees should expect to be watched. Those are expensive devices and machines that take a pretty penny to replace, so keeping tabs on how they’re being treated is expected. People expect text messages to be read, but would you expect a GPS tracking device installed in those company cars? It happens, and it might be a good idea to inform a supervisor if you’re making unexpected stops en route.

6.  Medical records may not be off limits

The idea of providing a doctor’s note is something that is expected from school, but your employer may require a similar piece of proof. As long as the note doesn’t include a diagnosis or break the discrimination policy, an employer is legally able to demand written evidence. Some states can even demand employee contraceptive records.

We live in a world of airing dirty laundry through social media, cautiously deleting search history and being brought into your boss’ office for both. Though it may be grueling, to not read the policies and agreements you sign on is cheating yourself. Whether you’re just starting a job or have been in the company for years, check out the company manual. It’s part of your job as an employee to know the rules anyway.

What do you think about these new, legal ways a company can keep track of its employees?

Read more in Employee Rights

Marissa Litty is the marketing assistant at Red Branch Media, a marketing and advertising firm that serves the Human Resources and Recruiting markets. Red Branch Media has grown from a simple consultancy to a full-service B2B marketing agency. Litty brings experience in event planning, design and advertising and enjoys writing about technology and mobile.
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