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To what extent can you monitor employees?

On Behalf of | Feb 12, 2024 | California Consumer Privacy Act, Employment Law

In a traditional office setting, employees understand and expect limited privacy. Companies often use a range of monitoring and surveillance measures to oversee productivity, promote security and ensure compliance with policies. Yet, the rise of remote work blurs the lines between personal and professional spaces, challenging employers to reconsider how far they can keep tabs on workers.

Types of employee monitoring and surveillance

California affords business owners considerable freedom to monitor employee activities as long as there is a legitimate business reason. As employers, you can access and monitor data on company-issued equipment, including phone calls, emails, and files. Tracking computer use, such as website visits and internet searches, is also a free game.

Additionally, you can monitor employee social media accounts that are publicly available and do not force workers to provide login information.

Nowadays, meetings can happen in the office but have participants attending virtually. Companies typically need records of these calls to use as references. However, it’s important to acquire consent from all parties before proceeding.

Although the state allows employee monitoring, it’s critical to exercise caution.

When employee surveillance becomes illegal

California boasts one of the country’s toughest data privacy laws, and it includes protections for employees. Employers must obtain consent before collecting any sensitive information, state the intended use of this data and disclose whether it will be sold or shared. Employees can also see and ask to delete their data.

Moreover, the state restricts the use of invasive monitoring tools. For instance, companies should refrain from installing video monitoring tools in spaces where employees reasonably expect privacy, such as the restrooms or locker rooms. Secretly recording conversations and videos, intercepting personal calls, going through emails containing personal data or screen recording employee’s personal devices may also constitute a violation of privacy.

Monitor without crossing the line

Some employers feel compelled to adopt more aggressive surveillance tactics that verge on invasive. Yet, it’s important to recognize that increasing data collection from employees heightens the risk of privacy breaches. For example, installing software that takes screenshots of an employee’s desktop might inadvertently capture sensitive information. Should this data become exposed, the company could find itself entangled in legal challenges.

Striking a balance between respecting employees’ privacy rights and the company’s need to monitor operations is crucial to maintaining a positive work environment while still boosting productivity and security.