Electronic Monitoring in the Workplace

Many articles, papers and books have been written concerning the electronic monitor in the work place. The majority of these writings focus on the employee’s right to privacy, the employer’s lost of revenue and resources, and the cost to the average consumer is often overlooked. Technology advances and the decrease in cost for the equipment have allowed most any employer to be able to monitor their employees. E-mail, Internet and phone monitoring at the work place will be explored focusing on the employer’s lost revenue and productivity. Like all other cost of doing business, the additional cost for electronic monitoring is passed on to the consumer.

What does it mean to you?
The debate of electronic monitoring in the workplace has position the employee and the employer against each other and it seems that this battle is not going away anytime soon. Some of the methods for electronic monitoring include e-mail, Internet, phone, cameras, sensors, Global Positioning System (GPS) and several others. The first three are the most common methods used by employers to monitor their employees in the effort to control cost, work output and reduce waste. Most all employees scream invasion of privacy when they find out about the monitoring in the work place. However, many employees are working under the false assumption that personal e-mail messages, use of computers and phone conversations are protected from their employer’s examination. First is the use of computers for electronic mail. In the United States is common for most workers to have access to a computer and electronic mail. In accordance to a study reported by U.S. News & World Report “over 130 million workers are currently flooding recipients with 2.8 billion e-mail messages each day.” In 2001 the U.S. Bureau of Labor, privacy foundation reported 140 million workers used a computer and Internet on the work place. In accordance Social Security on line the National Average Wage Index for 2006 was $38,651.41 and the number of hours in a fiscal year is 2080. By dividing the wages into the number of hours, we can determine that the average hourly rate in the United States is approximately $18.58. Through out this paper we will use the low number of 130 million workers from the report by U.S. News & World Report and for the sake of this paper, we will assume that the average hourly wage is $18.58. The following hypothesis is based on a combination of research and my own experience in the work force. My experience includes over 25 years in the work force in many different jobs performed and several states. Now, based on the above, we will also assume the average employee spends 15 minutes out of the day writing and reading personal e-mails at their place of employment. The amount of money been wasted in the corporations eyes is $4.65 a day per employee, these translates to $4.65 X 130 million employees equal $604.5 million. Due to the many different type of jobs, this example did not take into consideration the lost of output caused by the employees abuse of time. If you were an employer would you spend minimal amount of money to purchase e-mail monitoring devices? It is no surprise a survey of more than 700 companies by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that almost three-quarters of the companies check employee e-mail. In an article titled: “2005 Electronic Monitoring & Surveillance Survey” Written in May 18, 2005, the American Management Association reported 25% of companies have terminated employees for e-mail misuse. Since the law concerning e-mail privacy favors the companies and not the employees, a good rule for employees to follow concerning e-mails is to treat the privacy on an e-mail equivalent to the privacy on a post card send via postal mail.

The second and most damaging electronic abuse is the internet. According to 2005 Electronic Monitoring & Surveillance Survey, employers are primarily concerned about inappropriate Web surfing, with 76% monitoring workers’ Website connections. 65% of companies use software to block connections to inappropriate Websites. Lawfully, companies may keep track of the Internet sites visited by their workers. Many reports have staggering numbers concerning the lost of revenue due to abuse of the internet. For example; Computer Economics estimates that companies lost $5.3 billion to recreational Web surfing in 1999 (Cohen 2) and The Center of Internet addiction and recovery reports employee Internet abuse costs an estimated four billion dollars in lost work productivity each year. In September 2000 Vault.com revealed that 90% of employees use the Internet for personal reasons while at the office. The Vault.com survey categorized the Internet access by employees in five categories: Read news 72%, shop 40%, search another job 34%, check stock reports and coordinate social events 28%. Two additional issues concerning the abuse of internet are the overload on company’s servers and the companies’ legal liability which impact on the companies’ profit margins. Although most companies have sufficient bandwidth to handle their day to day operations, internet downloads can take up much of the servers capacity. Many employees have been reported to download music and video from the internet which creates a bandwidth nightmare for companies. “For example, when BMW recently drove traffic from their TV commercials to view short films on their website, they had 214,000 unique visitors within one week.” (Young & Case 2000) It is also reported servers often crash on or near Valentine’s Day and Christmas. The legal liability on employers is one that can not be overlooked by any employers if they want to stay in business. Several cases have set precedence in the courts. Workers claims that a hostile work environment exists have been legally proven and are more prevalent in organizations where access to pornographic sites is not restricted. “In Adamson v. Minneapolis Public Lib, the library paid $435,000 to settle a sexual harassment claim. The claim was made by 12 librarians who asserted that a hostile work environment was created by patrons accessing pornographic or sexually explicit material. In a related case, Chevron Corporation paid over $2 million to settle litigation brought by four women who claimed they received Internet pornography from coworkers on Chevron computers.” Internet abuse in the work place is one of the main reasons employees monitor their employees. The employee has too much to loose if he/she fails to put in place an internet monitor device.

The abuse of the companies’ phones for personal use is probably the oldest of all forms of electronic abuse and therefore the first one companies started monitoring. Due to other electronic abuses which can cost the employers much more money, phone monitoring is not on top of the electronic monitoring priority for most employers. Most of us do not think twice about making and/or receiving personal calls during work. It is amazing the decrease of productivity resulted from engaging in this activity rather than concentrating on work. Corporations have known about the telephone abuse for decades and although not as aggressive as other electronic monitoring methods, employers have taken steps to discourage the employees from abusing their phone privileges. In a study conducted by The American Management Association in 2005 it was reported that “57% of employers block access to 900 lines and other unauthorized phone numbers. The number of employers who monitor the amount of time employees spend on the phone and track the numbers called has jumped to 51%, up from 9% in 2001. The percentage of companies that tape phone conversations has also grown in the past four years. In 2001, 9% of companies recorded workers’ phone calls. Today, 19% tape the calls of employees in selected job categories, and another 3% record and review all employees’ phone chat.”

All the research shows that companies are loosing billions of dollars each year due to electronic abuse by the employees. In order to mitigate some of the losses, almost all employers engage in some type of electronic monitoring. The one thing that most of the surveys, studies and reports fail to clearly tell us is that we, the consumer, make up the difference in lost revenue due to the electronic abuse by their employees. I’m sure we all seen the signs at the stores that say “Shoplifting increases prices” and this is the same concept of the electronic abuse and waste of time at the work place. Electronic Monitoring at the work place affects everyone.

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