Employee monitoring is a tricky topic. From questions of ethics and legality to whether or not employee monitoring is beneficial, there’s a lot to unpack. If you’re considering implementing tools to track your employees’ productivity and safety at work, you’ve come to the right place. This guide will show you why you need an employee monitoring policy—and what to keep in mind as you create one.
What is Employee Monitoring?
Employee monitoring can look different from one company to another, and employers keep track of their employees for a variety of reasons. But there are three key goals that employers tend to look at when deciding whether to implement a monitoring plan. When done right, employee monitoring helps companies:
- Prevent unsafe or illegal situations
- Increase productivity
- Boost employee wellbeing
That said, there are downsides to employee monitoring. Employee surveillance and monitoring can cause employees to feel that their employers don’t trust them, create extra costs for employers, and put a company at legal risk.
The most important action to take if you plan to use workplace monitoring is to create an employee monitoring policy. This document should disclose an employer’s intent to monitor employees, lay out when and where employees can expect privacy and where they cannot, and define how the company is adhering to all local, state, and federal labor laws.
Before you can create an employee monitoring policy, it’s important to understand what employee surveillance looks like.
Types of Employee Monitoring
Back before the digital revolution, employee monitoring was simple. Employers watched their employees in the workplace to assess performance, listened to customer complaints and praises, and kept track of labor using time cards.
A lot has changed.
Thanks to the evolution of electronics, monitoring employees is easier than ever before. Some would say it’s too easy and that excessive monitoring can have serious drawbacks for employers and employees alike.
Let’s take a look at the most common forms of employee monitoring, along with their benefits and pitfalls.
It’s difficult to find a store, restaurant, or even a house without at least a few security cameras installed. While cameras are less common in office spaces, they can help prevent crimes like theft and sexual assault—and provide evidence to help prosecute such crimes when they do occur.
But there are important rules employers must follow when using video cameras to record employee activity.
First, you must have a legitimate reason why monitoring employees using a video camera matters to your business. Security, investigative processes, and time and motion studies are all legitimate business reasons.
If you’re considering using video cameras to monitor your employees for any work-related reason, there are several key points to consider.
First, recording audio without employee consent may violate federal wiretapping laws. It’s okay to require that consent as a condition of accepting a job, but you still need to obtain it first.
Second, cameras should be easily visible to employees. If they are hidden in any way, you must have a really good reason for this—and be prepared to back it up in court. And you should never record audio or video in a space where an employee has a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as a bathroom, changing room, or locker room.
Third, each state has different laws regarding video recording in the workplace. Make sure you understand and follow your state’s laws.
Monitoring Software for Computers
Whether it’s food service drivers who use GPS to navigate to customers’ homes or office workers creating reports on company-issued laptops, computers fortify today’s workforce. They can easily be surveilled using monitoring software.
Monitoring software provides employers with a way to make sure their employees are staying on the job during their paid work hours. A geofence can keep drivers from making unnecessary pitstops, for example. Social media blockers can help employees avoid the temptation of Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, and other time sucks.
The best employee monitoring software encourages employees to work more productively without alienating them.
Time Doctor is one of our favorite monitoring software services for this very reason. This product operates on the assumption that employees are well aware of the many distractions their laptops offer—and that many employees want help staying focused.
Whether an employee is working from home or from inside the office, monitoring software like Time Doctor helps them stay on task. For example, if an employee can’t resist the temptation to check Facebook when they’re supposed to be working, Time Doctor will send an alert to help them get back to work.
Time Doctor and other monitoring software services tend to track things like team chats, time, web and app use, breaks, work email, and attendance. They can also enable employers or employees to take screenshots and screen recordings.
Features like this can get tricky, as some studies show that remote employees resent these monitoring methods—and that they may even refuse job offers from companies that use them.
Trust is key here. If you decide to use screen recordings or screenshots, express your reasons to employees and take the time to listen to any questions they have. Above all, make sure you’re following the privacy laws that apply to your company.
Sometimes, it’s in your company’s best interest to deploy silent software monitoring measures. Unfortunately, data theft is a real concern. If you regularly handle sensitive data, you don’t want that data getting stolen—whether by someone inside your company or someone on the outside.
Monitoring software like InterGuard helps secure your data against internal cyber attacks and data theft while remaining compliant with data laws.
When employees work in a call center or regularly interact with clients using employer phones, telephone monitoring can help ensure the quality of a call. Some forms of call monitoring include recording calls, listening in on live calls, and jumping in to help agents when a call is headed south.
Talkdesk is one of our favorite call monitoring services because it provides call barging and live monitoring, but it also allows supervisors to give feedback on specific points in the call.
As with every other type of employee monitoring, call surveillance is best done under the direction of a clear and comprehensive employee monitoring policy.
Biometric technology is booming in both personal and workplace-related use. We use facial recognition to unlock our iPhones and press our fingerprints into time clocks to track work hours. These biometric advances undoubtedly make life more streamlined, but they can have downsides.
Employers appreciate that fingerprinted clock-ins help reduce time theft, for example, but employee advocates worry about what else the personal data—a person’s fingerprint—might be used for.
In recent years, some employers have encouraged the use of biometric screenings and fitness watch-based health initiatives to improve employee health and wellness. But this data, critics argue, can also pave the way for discrimination if employers use the data to inform health insurance coverage decisions.
If you decide to utilize a biometric tool of any kind—like UKG’s TouchFree ID for punching in or company Fitbits to encourage healthy practices—make sure you:
- Present this information to your employees in written form
- Disclose what the data will be used for
- Obtain employee consent in writing
While few states currently have laws addressing biometric monitoring, regulations are gaining ground. Illinois, Texas, and Washington all have laws regulating the use of biometric information. Other states are poised to follow suit.
Stay out of any legal issues by following the steps above—and keeping the data private once you have it.
Steps to Creating an Employee Monitoring Policy
The first step toward creating an employee monitoring policy is to enlist the help of your company’s lawyer or an online legal service like LegalZoom. Tell your attorney how and why you plan to monitor your employees.
An attorney will be able to help you understand the laws you must follow before you can even decide what monitoring methods to use. They can also help you draft an employee monitoring policy or point you in the direction of a suitable template.
You can find employee monitoring policy templates on sites like Template.net. What we love about this template is that it outlines the reasons for monitoring in detail.
In general, an employee monitoring policy should include the following sections:
- Introduction: explains why you plan to use monitoring tools, which software services you’ll be using, and what benefits these monitoring practices will bring to both the employer and the employee
- Scope: outlines who the monitoring policy applies to—for example, in-house employees but not independent contractors
- Outline of Monitoring Systems: a brief overview of the types of monitoring you’ll be using, when you will be using it, and whether or not it will be used for remote work
- Data Collection: explain why you will collect data, what type of data you will collect, how long the data will be stored, and what the company will do with the data
- Legality: explain how you are adhering to all the laws that apply to your company
- Signature and Date: a signature represents that an employee is in agreement with the employee monitoring policy as stated in the document
If the policy ever changes at any point in time, alert your employees, create an updated policy, and give employees the updated paperwork to read and sign if they agree.
And remember to show your attorney the employee monitoring policy to ensure you comply with all the laws relevant to your company.
Is an Employee Monitoring Policy Right For You?
Yes. If you plan to monitor employees in any way, then we absolutely recommend implementing an employee monitoring policy.
A policy like this helps your company enjoy the benefits of monitoring while reducing the risk of legal or ethical violations that can land you in boiling water.
But there are additional benefits to employee monitoring policies to think of, too:
- They help set employee expectations for work quality in a way that is open and honest, empowering employees to meet and exceed company standards.
- They set privacy expectations for employees, so they won’t assume they have privacy on company computers, for example—even if they choose to use the devices for personal reasons.
- Obtaining informed consent for your monitoring practices helps prevent ill feelings toward your company—no one likes to be spied on, and uninformed monitoring can land you on the wrong side of the law.
- They ensure that you’re adhering to the relevant data and privacy laws.
- They help create an ethical, transparent company culture.
It’s true that you’ll need to put in a bit of work to create an employee monitoring policy. But it’s worth doing the work now to avoid problems down the road.
Final Thoughts About Employee Monitoring Policies
Monitoring your employees, whether they’re working remotely or in the office, can bolster productivity, help ensure safety, and promote well-being. But employers must take care not to abuse the monitoring of employees, both for ethical and legal reasons. And if you’re going to monitor your employees, we recommend doing so in a way that fosters trust—not ruins it.
An excellent way to avoid issues related to employee surveillance is to implement an employee monitoring policy. These types of policies keep your company ethical and transparent. They help your employees provide informed consent, leading to a healthier—and more productive!—workplace environment.
There’s no better time than now to make employee monitoring policies a part of your employee management system and onboarding process.