Surveillance camera hanging from the top of a building.

Can US Employers Monitor Their Employees at Work?

Image by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke from Pixabay.

With the ongoing events that began in 2020 (the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing quarantine), many U.S. employers transitioned to remote work arrangements to accommodate local or state stay-at-home mandates. During this time, some employers engaged in certain types of remote workplace monitoring, such as the use of mobile device management (MDM) or productivity monitoring software.

There are many legitimate reasons why employers may monitor their employees in the U.S.

  • Customer-imposed contractual security requirements might require video surveillance on premises or implement data loss prevention (DLP) technology to prevent the unauthorized access or deletion of confidential data.
  • New privacy and security laws require employers to protect the confidentiality and privacy of consumer data, which requires monitoring of access to personal information.
  • Employers are required to protect access to proprietary information, or it may lose trade secret status if disclosed too broadly.
  • Employers can also generally monitor to improve the quality of their services and workforce productivity and satisfaction, such as through call monitoring or review of employee internet use.
  • Finally, employers have an overwhelming legitimate interest in preventing workplace harassment and criminal actions, which may require investigation and review of employees.

E-mails and Company Equipment (Computers, Phones)

U.S. employers generally have the right to monitor employees on company computers, phones, and other devices when (i) monitoring is done in the ordinary course of business, and (ii) employees are notified of the monitoring. In this situation, courts usually find that employees do not have an expectation of privacy regarding their communications and other activities on these devices.

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