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Legal Requirements for Worker Monitoring in the US and EU, Defined 2024

Companies are increasingly using completely different worker monitoring tactics as a result of the growing popularity of remote and hybrid work arrangements. It has been around for a very long period and consists of procedures like GPS tracking, safety camera use, and clock-in monitoring.

What is the purpose of worker monitoring?

Before delving into the legal requirements governing specific worker monitoring tactics, let us first discuss what employee monitoring is and why companies use it. Employers use a variety of surveillance and information gathering techniques when they monitor their employees. This could include keycards, biometrics, worker tracking software, and various digital monitoring techniques. 78% of employers who participated in an ExpressVPN study said they were comfortable using worker monitoring devices. The same survey also found that 59% of employees continue to worry about the possibility of being watched, underscoring a lack of openness and clarity in communication.

Is it legal to watch employees in the US or Europe?

Yes, the majority of worker monitoring techniques are accepted in the US and Europe.

The Digital Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), a federal law that prohibits invasions of privacy, allows for digital worker communication monitoring for legitimate business purposes. If at least one of the numerous parties involved has given permission after being informed in advance, you are able to keep an eye on digital communications. However, you might consider the state law, since certain states want the approval of all involved parties.

Top 5 Employee Monitoring Techniques

These are the top 5 employee monitoring techniques along with information on their legality.

1. Workstation and Computer Surveillance

Employee behavior on a company Laptop and workstation monitoring in this extensive type of electronic monitoring. This involves keeping an eye on internet activity and saved papers.

Why do businesses act in this way?

Employers must be aware of who has access to and uses the company’s workstations and other facilities. This can shield them from any potential abuse of workstations owned by the company and the resulting legal problems.

a. US laws pertaining to workstation and computer surveillance

All activity on company-owned devices may be electronically monitored under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA). You can also keep an eye on employee electronic communications that are preserved on business systems thanks to the Stored Communications Act. This covers computer use that may occur off-site as well. An employee using a company laptop while working from home, for instance, is still subject to monitoring.

b. GDPR regulations regarding workstation and computer surveillance

Computer monitoring is not specifically addressed by the GDPR. Its workplace privacy rules do, however, have an impact on certain areas of it. The GDPR states that computer monitoring is permitted as long as: A clear corporate policy notifies employees in advance of the monitoring.

The only reason it’s done is for legal business needs; an employee’s right to privacy is unaffected.

2. Monitoring social media and the internet

This type of workstation monitoring is mainly focused on observing how people use the internet while at work.

Businesses take this action to make sure that workers are using the internet responsibly and aren’t squandering time on social media activities unrelated to their jobs during working hours. This is also done to make sure that your workers aren’t accessing potentially harmful websites with their internet connections, which could compromise your cybersecurity.

US legislation regarding social media and internet surveillance

You have a right to know if a worker is using the internet only for work-related purposes while they are on company time.

3. Keeping an eye on keystrokes and screen content

In this case, keystrokes made by employees are recorded by monitoring software, which can also occasionally be used to take screen grabs of employees’ computers.

a. US laws regarding keystrokes and screen content monitoring

This approach typically comes under the US employer’s right to keep an eye on what happens on company-owned computers. However, since this is such an invasive way to follow employees, it’s advisable to obtain permission from the employees before utilizing such software. Steer clear of monitoring programs that surreptitiously operate on staff members’ computers as this may expose you to legal problems down the road.

b. GDPR regulations regarding keystrokes and screen content monitoring

Recall that protecting privacy is the primary goal of the GDPR. Because of this, using surveillance software that records keystrokes or captures images of your employees’ displays is typically prohibited. Even with regard to equipment held by the corporation, the impact on employees’ privacy is seen to be too great to be justified.

4. Keeping an eye on emails and private communications

Although it’s customary for employers to keep an eye on their employees’ emails, some even monitor private communications written and received on business property. The same as with keystroke logging, security is the rationale behind this. You can better control who has access to critical information when you are aware of the people your employees interact with.

a. US laws pertaining to the monitoring of emails and private messages

Any private communication or email sent or received on a device owned by the corporation is regarded as company property. For this reason, it’s OK for businesses to keep an eye on emails and private chats. But, as this may be interpreted as a clear violation of employee privacy at work, it’s advised that your business be quite open about what it’s tracking and get permission from your staff.

b. GDPR regulations on email content and private message monitoring

The GDPR does not specifically address email surveillance. It does, however, have certain workplace privacy requirements that you have to follow.

  • Email surveillance is allowed as long as the following holds true.
  • The worker has consented to the surveillance and is aware of it.
  • Email monitoring-derived employee data is handled securely.
  • Emails are retained by employers for a certain amount of time, after which they are deleted.

5. Listening in on business calls and voicemails

It takes more than merely listening to a conversation to monitor workplace phone interactions and voicemails. It may also entail capturing talks between employees. Employers take these precautions to protect the business from potential data breaches.

US legislation regarding the surveillance of business voicemails and phone conversations

Calls and voicemails can only be kept an eye on for valid business purposes. One effective technique to assess an employee’s performance is to watch how they engage with leads, for instance.

Final Words

Although the variety of worker monitoring laws may initially seem daunting, they all adhere to the same fundamental principle: you should always have a legitimate reason to watch over your employees and respect their right to privacy. You won’t have any trouble setting up an effective monitoring program at your company as long as you follow all of the concepts we covered here as well as any applicable regulatory requirements.