By: Ron Guest, Senior Partner, TwoGreySuits
Electronic monitoring of employees is not new in any sense. It became more of a conversation/practice during the pandemic as so many new ‘work from home’ workers emerged. It is being addressed now in some jurisdictions because it may be excessive or be seen as an invasion of privacy.
In 2023 the only province in Canada that requires certain businesses to have an Electronic Monitoring policy is Ontario. Only 3 states in the USA; Delaware, Connecticut and New York have enacted legislation requiring employers to provide employees with notice of workplace monitoring.
In Ontario, Canada, employers with 25 or more employees are now required to have a written policy which discloses the company’s intent to monitor employees electronically. On the TwoGreySuits members website we have posted a sample ‘Electronic Monitoring Policy’ and a more comprehensive document titled ‘General Information about Electronic Monitoring’.
What is the purpose of electronic monitoring?
While electronic monitoring can be seen as a way to improve worker efficiency, accountability, productivity and safety, it can lead to lower employee morale, trust issues, and even legal claims. Potential legal issues include breach of privacy legislation (PIPEDA) in Canada, unfair labour practices, discrimination, unpaid wages and overtime and even workplace injuries.
Electronic Monitoring is the monitoring of employees using electronic means during work hours. This could mean having your employees sign in online, key stroke tracking, computer cameras, tracking what websites they visit, tracking how much time they use on-line, putting a location tracker on a work vehicle to monitor location, phone and voice mail tracking/recording or having cameras in the workplace and even ‘smart seat’ cushions that track ‘health metrics’. (yes, believe it or not)
While intentional electronic monitoring is getting increasingly popular as more employees are working from home, many workplaces were already doing it in some form or another. If you have cameras in the workplace, or use a timecard system, or have access to track email and internet usage for example, you are already electronically monitoring your employees. The issue now will be on the effect electronic monitoring will have on employees if they are only just now hearing that they have been and will continue to be monitored.
Employee monitoring in Canada and the United States is completely legal. Most federal and state laws allow employers to monitor just about anything that comes in and out of company-owned devices and across their network, particularly where there is a legitimate business intent.
Remote monitoring software is available for PCs, Macs, Chromebooks and Android devices. Once installed, it can run discreetly in the background.
This software will track and record detailed information about all the user’s activity. In fact, you can even access a history of the user’s web searches, idle time, instant messages, file movement, productivity, downloads, uploads, print jobs, USB device usage, network access, and more.
Every time a new program is opened, the software can automatically time how long it is used. This information can be compiled into a productivity tracking report so a manager can see how employees are spending most of their time.
Remote monitoring software also can act as a digital surveillance camera by recording the user’s screen. This allows a manager to know their activities and understand their productivity and time-consuming tasks.
Without the oversight of managers in an office setting, many companies historically have been concerned that their employees are less productive, and that there is an increase risk to the company. This and the fact there are significantly more remote workers now because of the pandemic initiated practices, is a major reason why the use of employee monitoring technology has increased. However, research has now shown that employees are actually more productive working from home in general and for several reasons. The empirical evidence is convincingly overwhelming but managers and companies alike still hang on to the belief that workers not working at the office are less productive!
Stories are common of how companies are using employee monitoring to micromanage at-home workers, and that they are using techniques that are closer to spying than to managing their employees. Some of this concern is due to a small percentage of technology misuse combined with mistakes that companies have made when implementing the electronic monitoring software.
Employees Will Quit if they Know They are Being Monitored
Historically, a large number of organizations have shied away from outwardly discussing employee monitoring with their employees. (no legal requirement to do so in most North American jurisdictions) Research has shown that while many companies are monitoring their staff, only about half of employees are aware that their companies are doing so. This is a missed opportunity. So, when employees find out they are being monitored, there is an immediate lack of trust issue and this is often when resignations happen.
It’s important (now a legal requirement in some jurisdictions) to make employees aware of monitoring activities. As employee monitoring becomes more accepted as the norm (it already is the norm), employees will be less concerned that they are being monitored, and more concerned about how their company is approaching monitoring or using/storing the information. Transparency and clarity of expectations can go a long way to ensuring that employees embrace monitoring.
Even in jurisdictions where there is no legal requirement to disclose electronic monitoring, TwoGreySuits strongly recommends to disclose how and why employees are being monitored electronically. Poor communications about electronic monitoring may actually cause lower morale and higher turnover than being upfront and transparent about it. Electronic monitoring will only become more prevalent in the workplace of the future.
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