If you would like to install special software to help you monitor the productivity of employees working from home, be sure to show respect for their privacy. After all, most employees take pride in doing their best work and know that the smartest way to advance a career is to provide high-quality work on a timely basis. Of course, there may always be a few employees who are a bit lazy or require some type of direct supervision to remain fully motivated.
Given the many new complications that can develop after computer monitoring software is installed, make sure your company’s management officials first fully discuss all of the following common reasons for choosing formal monitoring over multiple daily check-ins with employees to evaluate their progress. Other related topics are addressed following this important list.
Questions that can help companies decide if they should install monitoring software
- Will monitoring work activities with software help increase efficiency and productivity?
- Do we need to be formally checking on proper and improper uses of the internet – even when workers are not using company-issued computers or always working on our company network? This is often the question most companies need to directly discuss with their Houston business law attorney since both state and federal laws are involved.
- Does the state of Texas allow us broad rights to install and use monitoring equipment on all employee computers? It is always wise to read what the state of Texas says about an employer’s rights before deciding to install monitoring software – especially when employees are using their own computers. Most companies do need to create what are sometimes called “BOYD” policies. This acronym stands for “bring your own device.”
It is naturally best to already have a BOYD policy in place so that all employees will have agreed to honor it as a condition of employment. If you do not already have one – ask your attorney how to obtain proper acceptance of one after an employee is already on the payroll. (Linking all new requirements to the need to maintain company security may often be the most legitimate basis for requesting written acceptance and compliance).
- Should we allow the software to take periodic screenshots? While these can help document the exact types of material employees are viewing, they may prove very intrusive. Your company must decide if it just wants to record all websites visited.
- Do we need to include webcam monitoring? This can prove very intrusive – and lead to the recording of private activities in an employee’s home by non-workers.
- Isn’t it wise to monitor all traffic to company databases? Every company has the right to limit which employees have access to certain database information. Your company security can be easily threatened if the wrong employees are surreptitiously accessing proprietary information – and then possibly sharing it with competitors – or using it for their own private gain.
- Do we really need to use some type of GPS tracking device? As the writer in the New York Times article referenced above noted, keeping track of where an employee goes all day by monitoring his/her phone may simply be too intrusive. Unless you must document that an employee is calling on clients in person or handling highly specific tasks in certain parts of the city, state, or country – you may want to avoid this type of monitoring.
Legal issues involved with company-owned computers vs. employee-owned computers
While federal laws do allow you to monitor employee usage of computers, you must abide by the specific terms of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) of 1986. Although there are distinct limitations on what you can monitor – there are also some specific exceptions.
As your Houston business law attorney can explain to you in greater detail, you are allowed to record certain types of monitoring data when you can prove this activity is related to a legitimate, business purpose exception. You will also want to be sure you obtain the right type of consent, in advance, from your employees – while clearly noting you are simply trying to protect your proprietary business interests.
Before first introducing any new computer monitoring activities, always check the contents of your current hard-copy or online employee handbook. Ideally, you have already reserved certain rights to add new forms of security measures as new needs arise. If necessary, be sure to update this material and provide notice to employees regarding it.
Consider the possible wisdom of introducing this type of software on a trial basis
If you do decide to install employee monitoring software, you should seriously consider doing so on a trial basis — for a stated length of time. After all, there really may not be a perfect kind of software for all unique or creative office tasks. Taking this approach may also calm certain employee fears – if you tell them that you will be listening to their input about the software before deciding to make it a permanent part of their daily lives while working at home.
If you fail to consider employee concerns, some of your best and brightest achievers may search for better jobs that guarantee far more worker privacy.
While evaluating any type of monitoring software, be sure to keep detailed (and dated) notes about all that you are learning in your records. Also, if you decide to contact employees on data indicating they should be working harder – keep an open mind – while also telling them they have a certain amount of time to improve their performance.
Employee monitoring software that is properly adjusted to the type of work your company does can prove very beneficial – as long as you always base your decisions on both data gathered and the actual quality and quantity of the work being produced.
Give serious thought to conferring with friends and colleagues at larger companies to get their input about the best types of employee monitoring software for your specific needs. If you are without such contacts, you can conduct research on the internet and then check on the Better Business Bureau rating of any company you decide to confer with about purchasing and installing monitoring software. An SBA (Small Business Administration) employee may also be able to provide you with a few good referrals, too.
Please feel free to contact one of our Murray Lobb attorneys to obtain our legal advice about how you should handle your company’s computer monitoring activities. When handled properly, employees may come to appreciate the fact that you are using the software in a way that treats all employees fairly.