Privacy and Your Job: Whose Business is it anyway?

Telling employees about a company monitoring policy is the first step in a successful employee-monitoring strategy. Educating employees about why monitoring is important to them and the company's future is the next. MedZilla explores today's corporate monitoring approaches, why some companies cross the line using monitoring to intimidate rather than safeguard and how employers can keep the balance between respecting employees and watching for practices that could affect the corporate bottom line.

Marysville, WA November 7, 2003!Businesses that monitor their employees!whether with cameras in the workplace, taping phone conversations, or tracking employee e-mail and Internet activities!might be accused of being Big Brother. Yet many are turning to tools that allow at least occasional surveillance of the workforce. The reason, explains Timothy A. Dimoff, president of SACS Consulting and Investigative Services, Inc., is that "one of the biggest thefts taking place in corporate America today is theft of time and because of that, just like any other crime or waste or inadequacy, you have to fix it."

Monitoring, however, doesn't have to be a turn-off in the workplace, and experts offer several ways that employers can monitor their employees without losing their respect or loyalty.

Monitoring today: its benefits and pitfalls

Issues with employee monitoring have changed. Elizabeth Ahearn, president and CEO Radclyffe Group, Whippany, NJ, a training and consulting firm that helps companies deliver world-class service through their call centers, remembers a time when corporate legal departments shunned employee monitoring for fear that employees might claim privacy invasion. But the argument eventually won out in the courts that employees had no reasonable expectation of privacy in the workplace.

Technological advances have also changed the way corporations view privacy, says Jim Harper, editor of, a Web-based think tank devoted to privacy. While some compare e-mail monitoring to phone surveillance, the two are very different. E-mails, he says, have much more potential to reach broad audiences and, therefore, do more damage to a company. It's almost a matter of good judgment that today's employers have some sort of e-mail monitoring in place, he says.

However, monitoring can go too far, such as when cameras are found in bathrooms and employers attempt to time bathroom breaks. "I've worked in places where about half the company was involved with watching the other half. It creates paranoia, suspicion and doesn't make for very comfortable working conditions," says Frank Heasley, PhD, the President and CEO of, a leading Internet recruitment and professional community that serves biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, healthcare and science.

Monitoring without crossing the line and alienating employees is a matter of good judgment, Harper says. "Employees want to know there is monitoring but don't want to have the feeling that someone is looking over their shoulders."

Monitoring for the right reasons

At issue with monitoring is the debate over providing better security and safety for employees, versus doing it to harass or intimidate them. Employee perception about why a business is monitoring them is critical, says Dimoff, whose company advises corporations regarding workplace litigation, conflict and crime.

Dr. Heasley says employers should have a reason to monitor. "Unless you have cause, you should not go digging around. But, sometimes, a business's health or survival depends on the employer monitoring employees. If, for example, you have good reason to suspect that someone who is working for you is working for a competitor, undermining your business, damaging morale or conspiring against you, then it is your obligation to uncover the wrongdoing."

Ahearn agrees, saying that a balance exists between watching and building trust. "Every employee needs to be dealt with as an individual, as opposed to creating group rules for the few that will take advantage," she says. "If a person is meeting their goals, deadlines or doing a great job, why should employers worry if they spend some time on the Internet?"

Dimoff disagrees and suggests businesses conduct monitoring across the board, with everyone subject to equal watching. This treats employees equally, while catching those who take advantage of the work environment.

Don't be sneaky

The first step in a successful monitoring campaign is to tell employees that they are being or might be watched. Employers should notify employees of this as early as in the job interview; then, have them sign a document that records their knowledge of being monitored.

Other things employers should do before monitoring employees are:

- Educate employees about the types of monitoring that you do and explain the reasons for the monitoring. Present the monitoring issue in a "what's-in-it-for-them" format. By arming employees with facts about at-work e-mail abuse and the understanding that the monitoring is for the success of the company, they will be much more likely to accept it as part of the job.

- Make sure that employees understand that all the equipment at work is company-owned and, therefore, while they are at work, they have no reasonable expectation of privacy at all times.

Understand that monitoring does not have to be all bad!and shouldn't be. Monitoring can also be used to commend employees on handling customer service issues well or making good decisions.

-Don't overuse surveillance devices. Video cameras, Ahearn says, typically should be used for employee safety!not to see who is stealing out of the mailroom.

Keep the proper perspective

Dimoff reminds employers that monitoring will not solve the problem of bad management. Fear is not the way to inspire people to work; motivation with incentives is.

"´some forward thinking employers actually encourage their employees to use employer resources to get degrees, connect with their kids, and do their travel planning from work," says Nan Andrews Amish, a business strategist with Big Picture Healthcare (, El Granada, Calif.

Dr. Heasley points out that "Once started, corporate paranoia can be difficult to curb. Companies who believe their employees are untrustworthy often create an environment of distrust that provokes the very behavior that they are trying to avoid."


Established in mid 1994, MedZilla is the original web site to serve career and hiring needs for professionals and employers in biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, medicine, science and healthcare. MedZilla databases contain about 10,000 open positions, 13,000 resumes from candidates actively seeking new positions and 50,000 archived resumes.

Medzilla? is a Registered Trademark owned by Medzilla Inc. Copyright ?2003, MedZilla, Inc. Permission is granted to reproduce and distribute this text in its entirety, and if electronically, with a link to the URL For permission to quote from or reproduce any portion of this message, please contact Michele Groutage, Director of Marketing and Development, MedZilla, Inc. Email: e-mail protected from spam bots.

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