Spying on Employees – Is it Ethical?

Modern technology continues to arouse discussions about employers spying on employees. With throngs of business owners installing surveillance cameras in the workplace, tracking employee Internet activity on company computers, monitoring employee social networking accounts and even going so far as demanding employee passwords for these sites, the debate about the limits and ethics of employee spying wages on. Too many shades of gray prevent us from offering a definitive ‘yes or no’ answer here, but whether you are an employer or an employee, we want to offer a little food for thought to help you determine, for yourself, whether spying on employees in the workplace is ethical or not.

Employer Spying Vs. Employee Spying

Let’s be clear here. We intend for this question to be applied only to employers spying on employees. We feel it necessary to make this distinction, since there have been recent allegations of employees spying on one another, which is definitely viewed by most as being unethical. One case that immediately comes to mind is that of the employees of the New Jersey Department of Treasury spying on the tax records of other employees in the Department. Clearly, such is a violation of privacy and not something that we advocate anyone with access to a similar database try.

Employee Spying Vs. an Illegal Violation Of Privacy

Of course, there are legal limitations to consider when it comes to spying on employees. While local statutes may vary, it is not only unethical to spy on employees in certain settings, but may also be downright criminal. Placing a surveillance camera in employee restrooms or dressing rooms, for example, would be an absolute no-no on anyone’s morality scale. Such is likely to result in criminal charges, as well as costly lawsuits, for any employer involved in such disgraceful behavior. Though we may agree that there are instances where spying can be justified, a scenario like this is definitely is not one of them.

When Might Spying Be Ethical?

There are a number of situations where employee spying may be considered ethical. For example, if a company suspects that employees are stealing from a company or committing other acts that would be detrimental to business, placing a surveillance camera in a workspace is justified. Or if an employee is suspected of consistently using company time and equipment for personal business then, yes, we say it is ethical to not only spy on an employee during business hours, but to also confront the employee about such activities. Installing keystroke monitoring solutions like the Spy Cobra Deluxe PC Monitoring USB Flash Drive on a company computer can help in weeding out employees who are misusing company time or who are downright harming a company by leaking proprietary information to an outside source.

Deciding For Yourself Whether Or Not Spying is Ethical

Our suggestions for deciding whether or not employee spying is ethical is to answer a few questions on your own first:

  1. If you are an employer, how do YOU feel about spying on your workers? If you are wildly uncomfortable about hiding a surveillance camera at your company, take a close look at what is prompting your discomfort. While you may be within your rights as a business owner to do so, your personal sense of what is right and what is wrong has to be taken into consideration here.
  2. What are the laws pertaining to employee spying in your state? Discussing the matter with local law enforcement, as well as your own legal counsel will help you determine whether (and to what extent) employee spying is legal in your area or not. If you are business owner, discussing the matter with your board of directors is a good idea before making a decision to spy on your employees.
  3. What might the effects of employee spying be on your company and on your employees? Some studies have shown that employees develop a deep sense of mistrust toward employers who spy on employees. Workplace surveillance can create strained relationships between employers and their employees, and may even contribute to a decrease in work quality and productivity. In extreme cases, workplace spying may even increase employee stress levels, which can eventually lead to an increase in missed work due to stress-related illnesses.

Reducing the Need For Employee Spying

One approach rarely discussed in workplace spying debates is how to reduce the need for employee spying in the first place. For one, publishing written guidelines about employee interactions, equipment usage and communication standards can help employers and employees adhere to a common understanding of the type of behavior that is expected in the workplace. Also, requiring employees to log in and out when using electronic devices, such as cash registers and computers, may reduce the misuse of these items. Installing a fake camera can also strongly encourage employees to abide by workplace ethics and values. Though this latter suggestion is more than a bit deceptive, it can also be quite effective in reducing workplace negligence without going so far as actually spying on employees.

Options For Everyone

So while there are instances where employee spying is completely ethical, it is an activity that employers must weigh very carefully first. Computer software and other surveillance equipment is not only available to help employers monitor their employees, but these devices are also affordable and easy to self-install. And, for those who are hesitant about employee spying, fake equipment may be a viable solution to improving workplace productivity and behavior without literally spying on individual workers.

We now turn the question of spying on employees over to you– is it ethical or not?

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