Legal Issues Relating to Employee PC Monitoring

Understanding what employees are doing with their time is critical for companies of all sizes and in all industries. Businesses need to know that employees are being productive at work and not using company resources for their own personal use. In sensitive industries such as legal, financial and military information sectors, the need to maintain privacy makes it particularly important to perform terminal server monitoring to check on their employees’ computer habits.

Enterprises purchase software products for monitoring because they want to efficiently monitor and track employee computer usage. However, businesses need to make sure they are operating within their legal rights when it comes to what they can monitor and how they can use the information they discover with a terminal server monitor. No business wants to be on the end of a lawsuit from a current or previous employee who claims that their personal rights were violated.

The reality is that, in most cases, private employees don’t have a right to expect privacy when it comes to their work computers or their communications. This includes emails, phone calls and faxes sent while using company property. Note that the legality of employee computer monitoring is different for government employees, as the Fourth Amendment can provide them with privacy protections. Private employees who are part of a company with a union covered in the National Labor Relations Act may also have some legal protection against remote desktop management programs being used to monitor their activity.

But the majority of private employees should expect no protection against monitoring of their computer or communications. In fact, in some instances employers have a burden to monitor what their employees are doing with the computers. One example of this is when a company checks to make sure that employees don’t have pornographic materials on their hard drives or are visiting pornographic websites. Not checking this can leave a company vulnerable to lawsuits from employees who claim they were the victim of harassment when viewing such materials on another employee’s computer.

Despite the legality of monitoring employee computer usage and communications, there are still things that companies can do to protect themselves from legal headaches down the road:

  • Include email communications as part of your overall corporate policy. This will ensure that emails and Internet usage are subject to the same harassment and non-discrimination policies as non-digital communications.
  • Make the right of the company to monitor and review computer usage and email communications part of the company policies. Employees must agree to this policy as a condition of working at your company.
  • Clearly state that computers and other technology devices are for work purposes only.