For many office workers, the era of work from home has brought a new level of freedom and flexibility. However, their bosses may see things differently.
The proliferation of teleworking has led to an increase in the number of companies using electronic monitoring software. Billed as a way to keep productivity out of the office, these programs offer employers a range of features, including keystroke logging, screenshots of employees’ computers, and, in some cases, access to webcams.
While employers often need access to company-owned computers and phones for security and information technology purposes, so-called “boss software” raises concerns about workers’ rights to electronic privacy.
Here’s what you need to know about your rights as an employee and how the legal landscape is changing.
How do I know if my company is following me?
“The general rule of thumb is that while you are at work at work, the employer has fairly broad powers to set rules and regulations in the workplace,” said Scherer, whose organization supports government oversight and limits on digital collection of personal information. …
In many cases, there are very few remedies for employees, especially when they use company property.
Employers do need to inform employees that they reserve the right to control their behavior, but these notices can be vague. Employers are not required to specifically tell workers what monitoring programs they use or what information they collect.
“They can install an app that tracks every keystroke you press on a corporate laptop, or they can install an app that continually sends them your location to the company’s mobile phone,” Scherer said. “There is no law that says they have to tell you they are doing it.”
Check your employee handbook and any documents you signed when hiring to see that your company reserves the right to control you or that you should not expect privacy rights on company devices.
In some cases, the monitoring software will be visible, but many software companies offer invisible versions as well. Bennett Cyphers and Karen Gallo of the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Civil Liberties and Digital Privacy Group found that many companies offer software that is “designed to be as difficult to detect and remove as possible.”
Am I entitled to privacy on my personal devices?
Technically, an employer cannot monitor you on a personal device without your knowledge.
“In practice, the employer will have to go through you to install any monitoring software,” Scherer said. “But here’s the catch: even then, there is no law that would prohibit an employer from saying, ‘You have to install this monitoring app on your phone or you will be fired.’
“You have no real right to say no to an employer and then be protected from retaliation,” he said.
How can I protect my privacy?
Count on keeping your work computer for work and your personal computer for personal affairs. This may seem obvious, but often people can leave their laptop at work if they are going in a couple of days or they are more comfortable using a personal computer. In other cases, people only have access to a working machine and cannot maintain a gap, cannot support a gap, or do not have their own personal computer.
The main thing is to assume that everything that you do on the territory of the company is not private. This includes your corporate computer and phone, as well as corporate Slack, Zoom, email, and other programs that you access through your company.
Are workplace privacy laws changing?
Yes, but slowly.
California Consumer Protection Act requires companies to disclose what information they collect about consumers, how they collect it, and how they will use it. Employers have been exempted from disclosing such information to employees, but this exemption will expire in 2023.
While California law will become the gold standard for protecting employee privacy, if these provisions go into effect, both employee advocates and employers are likely to lobby for changes in 2022. On the other side of the country, Massachusetts Privacy Act has very specific employee privacy. If passed, Scherer said it would become the most powerful bill in the country.
More broadly, advocates of privacy and workers’ rights are pushing for federal and state law that would require employers to disclose when electronic monitoring is used. Annette Bernhardt, Lisa Kresge, and Rim Suleiman of the University of California Berkeley Labor Center argue that companies should be required to disclose “what activities will be monitored, the method of monitoring, the data that will be collected, and when and where the monitoring will take place. occur, the purpose of monitoring and why it is necessary. ”
In their view, employers should also be required to document how this monitoring will influence decisions affecting workers, such as pay, performance appraisals and job assignments.