Is Employee Time Tracking An Ethical Practice?

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Employee monitoring has long become an accepted practice in the workplace — with time tracking paving the way. With a lot of companies hiring remote and freelance workers, traditional manual time clocks are on the way out. Naturally, time tracking software has become extremely popular. This seems to be a progressive trend. According to a PwC survey, 78% of interviewed CEOs agree that remote collaboration will stay for a long time. 

Modern time tracking tools let employers efficiently keep a record of work hours and often integrate directly with payroll systems. However, while the convenience of employee monitoring tools is hardly doubtful, their accompanying ethical concerns are much more ambiguous.

So, is there such a thing as employee monitoring ethics? Moreover, what is the legal status of employee tracking tools in the workplace? In this article, we will try to find answers to both of these questions. 

Is Employee Time Tracking Legal?

There are three main reasons why employers may want to track their employees:

  • They may want to protect their businesses from unsafe behavior.
  • They need to ensure that there is no illegal activity taking place on company equipment.
  • Finally, they may want to keep tabs on employee productivity and make sure company time is not being wasted.

All of these seem quite reasonable — and the courts tend to agree.

At this point, there are no concrete laws that address employee tracking. What’s more, in the majority of related lawsuits, the courts served to protect employer rights. In general, the courts seem to adhere to the following principles:  

  • When on company property and while using company equipment, there should be no expectations of privacy on the part of the employee. In this case, the employee in question is using the hardware that belongs to someone else.
  • A business has the right to protect itself from liability. For instance, if an employee is engaged in illicit activity while using company equipment, this can result in serious consequences for the business. 
  • What’s more, a business also has the right to protect its investments. This involves securing the company against time theft practices and ensuring that employees stay productive throughout the working day. Thus, in theory, employee activity can be monitored during the hours for which they are getting paid.
  • Additionally, a business can take measures to protect industry secrets. Therefore, a company can monitor an employee’s activities online in order to prevent confidential information from being leaked. 
  • Finally, a company can also monitor employee’s online behavior to make sure that all due safety procedures are followed. Risky practices can put both the company and its clients in danger and leave a business open to liability suits.

Is the Use of Employee Monitoring Tools Ethical?

While the legal aspects of employee tracking are clear, this can be hardly said about employee monitoring ethics. One of the main reasons for this ethical ambiguity is that an employee’s personal life and work are often difficult to separate. For instance, we often need to make personal phone calls while at work, send emails, exchange photos and messages during lunch hour, and so on. 

Naturally, this is highly personal information — and there should be ways for an individual to keep this private. Thus, offices should be equipped with meeting rooms with no cameras where employees can be certain of their privacy. Plus, the software that a company uses should also leave space for employee privacy.  

When it comes to monitoring emails and online activity, a lot of companies have managed to establish some sort of middle ground. Some businesses choose to only monitor emails that exceed a certain size, which may be indicative of large attachments (that might include confidential company information). Some companies opt for blocking websites based on certain keywords that hint at suspicious and non-work-related content. 

What are the Best Employee Tracking Practices?

While the specifics of how tracking is organized depends on the needs of a particular company and its workers, there are several important principles to take into account.

Transparency

The key factor in ethical digital tracking is letting your employees know exactly what type of tracking is being used. This doesn’t only mean informing them about it but also explaining how the process works and what activity is being monitored.

Ethical Tracking Provider

A company must choose an established and reputable time tracking software provider. Professional developers of time tracking and other related software will have a clear policy on what activities they monitor. Plus, they often have systems in place to inform employees of tracking procedures. 

Proper Paperwork

In order to avoid possible misunderstandings, it is best to have contracts in place regulating monitoring policies. With all employee tracking activities clearly stated in the contract, a business can avoid a wide range of possible issues in the future. 

Summing Things Up

While widely used in the workplace, digital employee monitoring and time tracking are still relatively new. Both businesses and employees are still in the process of figuring out the best ways to make it work for mutual benefits. The key to making it a win-win situation seems to be in the hands of both parties. Employers need to be clear and transparent about the monitoring practices they use. Employees, on the other hand, need to be aware of what the process involves and avoid putting their employers at risk when using company equipment.

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