How much employee monitoring is too much?

Gina Belli, PayScale
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"Privacy" means something very different in an age where anyone can look up anyone else online. You know that future and present employers can look at your social media profiles and learn everything from where you grew up to who you voted for in the last election.

As a result, hopefully, you curate your public presence carefully. Even once you've landed a job, managers and other higher-ups might still be doing some digging. But even if you're totally off the grid, social-media wise, there's a lot that employers can find out about you, once you're working for the company. Employee monitoring ranging from video surveillance to keystroke loggers lets companies know what their workers are up to at any moment of the day.

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Legally, employers are within their rights to monitor workers (for the most part). But from a privacy perspective, this might give you, the worker, some pause. Has employee monitoring gone too far?

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Employee monitoring is widespread

Typically, larger companies are more likely to check up on their workers. A study done by the American Management Association, which was covered by ABC News, found that nearly 80 percent of major companies monitor their employees' use of email, internet or phone. They also found that some industries, like the financial industry, are especially vigilant. Over 90 percent of these firms said they participated in some type of surveillance.

Workers should be aware that employers are probably monitoring their actions while they're on the job. Any time you're on the phone, using company email or using the internet, your employer could be watching.

"The lines between one's personal and professional life can blur … but employees ought to engage in some discretion about personal activities carried out during the official hours of work," Ellen Bayer, AMA's human resources practice leader, explained to ABC News.

Have employers gone too far?

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There are almost countless ways to track an employee's activities and behaviors. Open-office configurations "promote transparency." Key cards, video cameras and software are used to monitor workers' every movement, as well as their every keystroke. One Wisconsin company has even started microchipping their employees — although participation is voluntary.

Voluntary or not, this practice, alongside all the other monitoring methods that abound in today's workplaces, is raising eyebrows and ethical questions.

Sure, monitoring employees benefits companies in lots of ways. But, what about privacy? Just because we work for a company, does that really mean they have the right to watch our every movement?

What these companies gain in productivity might be lost in engagement and trust, especially if the business isn't transparent about how they're monitoring workers. For workers, however, the best advice remains to assume that employers can see everything you do at work. Don't do or say anything that you wouldn't do or say in front of your boss.

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This article originally appeared on PayScale.

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