employee monitoring laws

Employee Monitoring Laws You Need to Know

Employee monitoring laws set restrictions on companies and protections for workers. Companies use employee monitoring for cybersecurity, safety, or efficiency reasons. Further, monitoring software can help raise productivity and inform managers of current employee tasks.

While monitoring is legal across the country, federal and state laws may restrict businesses' implementation of these practices.

No matter the purpose, a private employer should ensure they follow employee monitoring ethics and legal regulations. Below is a rundown of the rules and details you should keep in mind.

a remote worker logs using employee monitoring software

What qualifies as employee monitoring?

Employee monitoring is any method a manager uses to observe employee activity and internet use. These methods include logging internet access, phone messages, and email activity. An employer may use other tools as well. Around 62% of major corporations gather employee data through proof of work tools.

Invasive monitoring

Invasive employee monitoring means a company obtains personal details about employees without them knowing.

Unfortunately, you might find these invasive practices in workplaces:

  • Monitoring keystrokes on computers

  • Using wiretaps on telephone conversations

  • Using webcam capture technology

  • Location tracking even when team members are off the clock.

It’s natural for an employer to want to ensure their team members aren’t wasting time or spending all day on social media. However, a culture of over-monitoring can quickly become an oppressive environment of employer-sanctioned micromanagement. This can be damaging to employee morale or even your company’s reputation.

Noninvasive monitoring

Meanwhile, other companies use less invasive techniques to keep an eye on productivity without sacrificing employee trust and freedom.

An employer can gather data to improve the team efficiency. At the same time, they don’t require access to information like voicemails, webcams, and private messages.

Examples include:

  • Video surveillance in public spaces

  • Anonymized statistics about app usage

  • Employee monitoring software programs

  • Call logging

Staff should have an awareness of how monitoring works at their company. However, there should also be a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Federal laws regarding employee monitoring

Regardless of the method, some have questioned the legality of employee monitoring. The practice itself is legal in the United States. However, federal employee monitoring laws protect employee privacy and keep their safety and independence in mind.

 a remote professional has a virtual meeting about employee privacy

Electronics Communications Privacy Act

One of the most important privacy laws is the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA). In general, ECPA prohibits the interception of electronic conversations.

A couple of exceptions exist. A company can monitor employee activity if it has a legitimate business reason. Additionally, the employer can monitor if they ask for an employee’s consent. Usually, companies infer consent when staff members use company-owned electronics.

Stored Communications Act

The Stored Communications Act is a part of the ECPA, and the act allows employers to access communications like company emails. They can do so if they are consistent with their disclosed monitoring policies. However, the act requires companies to get an employee's permission to obtain data from private social media accounts and personal emails.

Video Privacy Protection Act

The Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA) protects online users from unauthorized tracking. Certain websites cannot provide personal user data to third parties without the individual's written consent.

Employers can record employees on cameras in the workplace. However, the VPPA prevents them from placing video surveillance in the restrooms or other private areas.

State laws regarding employee monitoring

All 50 states in the US do allow businesses to engage in workplace monitoring. Yet, multiple state laws have addressed privacy issues. Some states require companies to make team members aware of any form of monitoring.

New York laws

While people have an expectation of privacy, they’re aware that company computers and laptops may monitor them. New York's Civil Rights Law states that companies must give written notice of possible recordings of phone, email, or internet communications. An employer may place a warning in an employee handbook for new hires to review.

Nevertheless, new employees may be unsure about their rights when they use personal devices. The new law amendment may apply to employees who use personal phones or laptops. After all, working from home has grown in recent years.

At-home employees living outside New York may not benefit from the state's privacy protections, so it’s important to check your state’s rulings to keep up to date about your rights.

Connecticut laws

In Connecticut, employee monitoring laws require business owners to inform employees of company observation methods. An employer must provide written notice and clearly describe the type of monitoring they use. Companies can remain compliant by placing the memo in a conspicuous place for new employees.

Regulations do allow businesses an exception. An employer can have lawful means to monitor without giving a prior warning or having employee consent. However, they must reasonably believe that an individual has been creating an unsafe work environment before they can monitor without permission.

A manager helps coworkers set up employee monitoring software

Delaware laws

Delaware employee monitoring laws also restrict phone, internet, and email recording in the workplace. An employer must give electronic notice to employees before monitoring their activities. The notification should occur once each day the individual uses company-owned internet or email services.

Alternatively, the employer can give a first-time warning of workplace monitoring. Of course, the notice should be in writing or electronic form. Also, the employee has to show they recognize the notice of electronic monitoring.

California laws

California does allow business owners to observe employee activity on the job site. They can track business calls and how someone uses a company computer. Furthermore, an employer can access a team member's work voicemail and email.

Despite employers being able to gather sensitive data, employees have privacy rights. The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) protects consumers' rights in the state. However, the law also gives some power to employees.

California also passed new legislation that strengthened the CCPA. Essentially, theCalifornia Privacy Rights Act (CPRA) considers employees and freelancers to be consumers. As a result, they have the right to know who is collecting their data. They also have more control over their personal information.

International employee monitoring laws

Some United States businesses operate overseas and must abide by international employee monitoring laws. The primary law employers must comply with is Europe's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). GDPR allows workplaces to monitor people if they have lawful grounds.

Still, employers need to create privacy policies to inform the staff of how they collect and process data.

Avoiding legal trouble with employee monitoring

Federal laws like the ECPA set the standard for monitoring employees while maintaining privacy. Companies cannot interfere with electronic communications unless they have a legitimate reason. Additionally, some states have regulations regarding data protection and employee consent.

A violation can lead to civil penalties, including heavy fines that increase after each subsequent offense. Therefore, many business owners look for ways to ensure productivity while remaining compliant.

An effective way to avoid legal trouble is to stay updated with employee monitoring laws. Furthermore, employers should be transparent with their policies. They can send a notice of electronic monitoring or put a disclaimer of their policies in an employee handbook.

You can also ensure you’re compliant by using software that puts privacy first. Hubstaff can provide employee monitoring tools that don’t sacrifice trust and transparency.

Screenshot of Hubstaff employee monitoring screenshots

With Hubstaff, you can utilize all-in-one employee time tracking, GPS location, employee analytics, and more. You can observe project status updates through timelines and to-do lists. Hubstaff's services streamline the process so that you can focus on building your business or brand.

Hubstaff meets all legal monitoring requirements, so consider booking a demo. There is also a free 14-day trial to help you try out all of Hubstaff's benefits.

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