Topical Press ReleasesSeptember 9, 2020

The Ethical Implications of Employee Tracking

A complete lack of visibility while people are working remotely. At what point does the company start to monitor?

The Ethical Implications of Employee Tracking

Remote work. Remote people. And a complete lack of visibility. At what point does the company start watching?

Picture this. A busy office, people bustling. A few are in the kitchen grabbing a coffee and a catch-up, some are in meetings, others are sitting at their desks typing or on the phone. Managers and executives walking through the office have almost complete visibility into what people are doing and how they are doing it. IT restrictions and access limitations reduce the risks of social media distraction, and policy and regulations minimise the impact of inappropriate website and email. Then, suddenly, the picture changes and the office is empty. The work is being done from home. Or is it?

“It’s been a stark and dramatic change in work environment and responsibility,” says Nicol Myburgh Head: CRS Technologies HCM Business Unit. “People are working from kitchen counters, home studies and lounge suites. They’re waking up and heading into the virtual office in pyjamas. The world is online, and organisations that resisted remote working for years are living out their worst fears – will the work get done? Will the employee deliver? How do I know they’re not watching Netflix?”

For some companies, trust has become critical. Employees have been given trust and space and allowed to reach their goals without consistent monitoring and assessments. Others have gone big brother – installing monitoring tools and surveillance apps onto laptops and devices to ensure that their people are doing the work and not disobeying the rules. It’s a hard-line approach that doesn’t necessarily win employee favour or trust, but that is, unfortunately, entirely legal.

If employees are using company equipment then the company is entitled to monitor what happens on it,” says Myburgh. “They can implement tracking tools and monitoring software onto the laptops that have been provided to the employees and they can completely track exactly what the employee is doing on these devices. They belong to the company and are intended for work purposes so this level of surveillance is allowed.”

Laws about tracking employees do not extend to video

An uncomfortable thought. But one that shouldn’t bother the employee that does the work, delivers the goods and steadily meets their KPIs and uses the company equipment. However, this does change if the employee has used their own personal devices to continue working from home. Then, the company needs a court order to access any information on these devices. They belong to the employee and any activity that’s taken place on them is theirs alone.

“It’s generally a good idea for companies to stay away from secret monitoring tools that track their movements and behaviours,” says Myburgh. “If it’s absolutely necessary to monitor employee behaviour, consider using transparent and visible tools such as online timesheets which everyone can see and assess. It’s not particularly fair to watch an employee’s every move.”

The laws about tracking employees do not extend to video. Activating a laptop camera to watch employees and their activity opens the door to a long line of ethical questions that generally result in one response – that’s not okay. There are so many rules and regulations that already surround employee conduct and managing misconduct and ensuring that both company and employee are respected that the best solution is the one that asks for honesty and trust without heavy-handed control.

“People need recognition, clarity and engagement so that they remain involved in the company and committed to working for it,” concludes Myburgh. “Rather focus on these factors than on their every move and tweet. A great example of this is how NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) treated its cleaners – their work was seen as critical to the success of every mission because without clean floors and spaces, the work wouldn’t get done. The result? Passionate people who felt part of a team. This is a far better approach than secret software and monitoring.”

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