Employee privacy sinks as surveillance technology evolves

Employee monitoring is a corporate culture that is as old as the business environment. Without challenges, employers will always monitor their workers for various purposes regardless of how much it ridicules employee privacy. From corporate emails, phone calls, formal and informal discussions to physical gestures or movements, employee privacy cannot override corporate goals/visions or strangle productivity promoting practices.

While we consent with employers’ need to monitor workers, we will also admit that the evolution of workplace surveillance technology over the years has spelled more doom to employee privacy. Life on the job is increasingly turning to life under a managerial microscope.

Walmart, for instance, has taken employee monitoring to a new level after patenting a system that will allow it to listen in on customers and workers. The system, referred to as Listening to the Frontend by the retail giant, deploys sound sensors that close in on customers’ check-out experience and shopping. The system will also monitor some noises such as rustling of bags, the beeps of item scanners, and also the conversations between shoppers and workers.

Why companies consider employee monitoring important

Reported by CBS News, a survey by research firm Gartner involving 239 companies suggests that more companies want to improve on how they monitor their employees. Among the survey participants, 57% of the companies said they expect in 2018 to closely monitor employee data such as biometric monitoring, workplace usage, texts in internal messaging systems, and movement.

Tracking employees’ movements, habits and even conversations may provide lots of information to companies. For instance, Walmart’s interest in employee monitoring is to generate useful details that would enable the retail giant to cut down operational cost and improve customer service.

According to Ragan Dickens, Walmart’s corporate communication director, the audio to be acquired by the “Listening to the Frontend” system which would be reviewed mostly by computer could be used to measure employee performance.

UPS recently installed sensors in their delivery trucks. The sensors are used to track the vehicle’s usage in an effort to ascertain when the trucks are due for maintenance. The data also helps the company to monitor drivers; when they are in and out of their trucks and if they are wearing seatbelts.

Software company Humanyze monitors their employees’ communication with colleagues and movements around the office using ID badges with motion sensors, microphones, and support for Bluetooth and infrared.

What can employees do about workplace privacy?

According to the American Bar Association, no federal laws prohibit employers from monitoring employees. However, some states the use of workplace surveillance technology. Digitally, employee privacy lacks sufficient laws protecting it. Maryland, Illinois, and Delaware are the only states that have passed bills barring employers from requiring workers to grant them access to their social media pages.

Employees have very few options in promoting workplace privacy without the backing of state and federal laws which has little or no protection on it. Employees’ privacy rights at work are limited to their personal devices. They can also learn more about their companies’ data access and monitoring policies to know when employers breach their workplace privacy and to recommend changes where necessary.

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