woman working remotely at home gets a call from her boss, who is monitoring and watching her work and productivity through a monitoring software. The woman is in her home office, there is a window behind her and she is on a phone call while looking at the computer screenAs the coronavirus pandemic continues in Massachusetts and the nation, many employees are still working remotely from home. While working from home certainly offers more freedom and flexibility for many people, it also can come with more oversight than ever before.

Your employer now can have “access to almost everything you do electronically, and monitoring software makes that data easy to collect and analyze,” reported the Washington Post.

While working from home remains popular, largely due to the delta variant of the coronavirus, companies are continuing to rely on employee tracking software.

Perhaps your company isn’t tracking every moment of your workday, but it does have the capability to do so. If you work for a large company, it’s more likely than not that your employer is using some form of employee tracking software - whether you know it or not.

How can my Boss monitor what I’m doing?

There are several commercially available software programs companies can use to gather and analyze employees’ day-to-day data, reports the Washington Post. In general, programs can collect how active employees are on their mouse and keyboard, when they log in and out of work, and how long they spend on any social media sites.

When the pandemic first hit in early 2020, about 30% of large employers (with thousands of employees) became equipped with forms of employee-tracking software for the first time. Now, about 60% of all large employers use the software.

As an employee, this is certainly uncomfortable news. While you can’t evade being tracked by your boss, we’ll help you know what exactly your boss might be able to watch - whether you’re working remotely or are back in the office.

The 5 things most bosses are tracking are: 

  1. Your Email
  2. Your Focus & Activity
  3. Your Browser
  4. Your Workplace Collaboration Tools
  5. Your Surroundings

1.   How your boss can monitor your email

If your employer has emails set up through providers such as Gmail and Outlook, administrators of the account have access to every email you send and receive. Even if your company doesn’t use one of these specific providers, other third-party monitoring tools allow your employer to view email contents, subject lines, and attachments.

Importantly, the ability to peek into your inbox isn’t limited to your work account. If you use your work computer to access your personal email, your employer can also see your personal email content, subject lines, and attachments. Employers can limit this functionality if they wish, but you can’t somehow exclude yourself from the function as an employee.

2.   How your boss can monitor your focus and activity

Some of the more popular monitoring tools employers use are Teramind, InterGuard, ActivTrak, Hubstaff, and TimeCamp.

Monitoring software can track when you’re active or stalled by collecting your keyboard and mouse data. Certain types of activity can also lead to alerts to employers.

If you use social media while working, your activity could likely get flagged. An employer can set parameters within the software when it comes to social media use during the workday. An employer could set up the software to flag an employer any time they spend more than 5 minutes on Facebook at a time, for example, or if the employee spends more than a total of 30 or 60 minutes on Facebook throughout the whole day.

Other software will intermittently take screenshots of your desktop throughout the workday. Some software even allows for real-time recordings of employees’ desktops. Some even allow employers to activate a video chat with an employee at any moment - so if something is flagged in a screenshot or screen recording, your boss could be figuratively knocking on your office door to chat immediately.

3.   How your boss can monitor your browser

Your boss can monitor your website browsing activity if you’re using a work computer and if you’re using a personal computer but on a company network. This is reason to be careful about what sites you access as all websites you visit will be visible to your employer on a company computer or a personal computer connected to a company network.

4.   How your boss can monitor your workplace collaboration tools

Even if you have coworkers who have also become friends, you need to be careful with what you share over office collaboration tools like Google Chat, Slack, Google Meet, and other workplace communication tools.

Take Slack, for example. An employer who owns the Slack workspace can export messages from any private direct messages. Slack also keeps stats that measure your activity and engagement, so an employer can tell if you’re not being active in your teams or chats.

5. How your boss can monitor your surroundings

Employers can also monitor your surroundings, which means anyone who lives in your home could become subject to monitoring. Some monitoring software collects sound from your computer’s microphone and speakers, which could include conversations happening in your apartment or home.

Some bosses monitor the location of their employees with special apps on employees’ phones which send employers real-time location information of their employees.

What Can Monitoring Software Track?

  • Your productivity. This includes how long it takes you to respond to an email.
  • Any keyboard and mouse activity can be tracked to see when you’re active and when you’ve stepped away.
  • Depending on your employee agreement, bosses can also have access to your webcam. 
  • Some software specifically scans emails for profanity and other key indications of a “disgruntled employee,” source. This also applies to negative social media posts.
  • If you visit job-search sites, your boss may be notified.
  • If you visit social media sites on a work computer or work network, monitoring software can collect information on what you see, and what you type while using your personal social media account.
  • Any work collaboration or communication tool is free for your employer to extract information from.

Does my Boss have to tell me what they’re tracking?

a table that illustrates what different monitoring companies can track for employers so that bosses can watch remote and at-home employees
Screenshot from Washington Post article

More likely than not, you consented to be monitored in an employment agreement. Your employer may or may not be collecting data from your every move during the workday, but the best way to know if they are is to ask.

Few states, such as Delaware and Connecticut according to The Post, do require that employers notify their employees if their electronic activity is being monitored. But those states are exceptions, not the general rule. Most companies are not required to give you any notice, but if they did it was probably in forms you signed when you accepted your job offer.

Your employer may collect data from keyboards, webcams, mouses, the websites you go to, and even your emails on work-issued devices if it’s in your employment agreement.

Many employers thankfully look at the data as a whole, rather than on an individual level, reports The Post.

Is it legal for my boss to track me during work?

In general, employees have very few protections and privacy rights.

It might come as a surprise to some, but all of the ways mentioned above about how your boss can watch and monitor you are legal. You may be uncomfortable with your employer monitoring your daily work and productivity, but there’s little (if anything) you can do to change that.

In the event you get in trouble or lose your job due to something your employer caught you doing while you were unknowingly being monitored, there is likely nothing you can do. “Almost all types of employee surveillance are entirely legal, according to Emory Roane, privacy counsel at the nonprofit organization Privacy Rights Clearinghouse,” reports The Washington Post.

How trying to monitor productivity can discourage it

“Surveillance makes employees lose trust and motivation,” says Allen Holub, a software consultant who helps teams work together more effectively, reports The Post. If an employer has concerns about their employees stealing from them, for example, that’s more of a hiring issue than a management problem. The same is true for incentivizing employees.

A dedicated and productive employee is more likely to be incentivized by healthy systems that reward productivity than by knowing they’re being watched. 

The more transparent an employer is with what monitoring software is being used, why it’s being used, how it’s being used, and publishing collected metrics, the more likely it is to be successful.

Conclusion: Your Boss Can Legally Monitor Any Activity on a Work Computer or A Work Network

As you now know, your boss can monitor almost anything you do during the day - whether you’re working remotely or have returned to the office. When it comes to activity on a work computer, or even a personal computer on a work network, very little is truly private.

Be cautious about how you spend your time during your workday, and be aware that anything you do could be monitored and used against you. One of the most important things to keep in mind is that even “private” conversations - whether emails or conversations in work collaboration tools - are not actually private. Even if no one reads every message being sent, the software can flag conversations and draw attention to something that might have otherwise flown under the radar.

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