Surveillance Systems and Employee Privacy
The use of video surveillance systems has been around for years. For employers, it can be an effective tool to monitor customers and employees, and to deter internal theft and other illegal activities. In addition, security cameras help ensure employee safety by monitoring the company’s parking lot or garage, for example. As technology gained a foothold, however, people became increasingly computer savvy and another kind of employee theft emerged that was difficult to monitor with a camera.
The Thief of Time
The biggest theft problem employer’s face today is stolen time, and it is a problem that has grown exponentially. More than a decade ago, the Orlando Sentinel reported that the cost of lost production time for larger industries could be as much as $1 billion a year. This figure was determined by calculating how many employees surf the Internet during working hours for their personal use. Clearly, alternative security services were necessary to help deter this loss of production.
Lawful Use of Security Services
Some employers have turned to security services to help them monitor non-work-related computer activities. While surveillance cameras have become commonplace in businesses, employers have had to be mindful of not invading the privacy of employees. Video cameras can be placed strategically without violating an employee’s privacy rights. For example, video surveillance systems are not allowed in rest rooms, locker rooms or any other location where employees are not engaging in work-related activities and can expect to have privacy. The monitoring of any other work location, however, is fair game. If any stealing, illegal activity or violation of safety rules is going on, it can be legally captured on tape.
How One Minute Turns into Ten Days of Lost Work Time
Trying to figure out if employees are stealing time requires sophisticated security systems. The computers themselves must be monitored, and this can present some problems. Employees may argue that their privacy is being invaded if all they are doing is sitting in a private office using a work computer. They aren’t interacting with the public, such as in a bank, and they are not handling products or money. Employees may also argue that monitoring every aspect of their communications during working hours, i.e. Internet surfing, computer games, private emails, telephone calls and voicemails, is an invasion of privacy and goes above and beyond what normal security devices should monitor. Employers, however, can lawfully watch what their employees are doing while they work if employees are aware they are being watched.
Employers stand to lose thousands upon thousands of dollars annually if non-work related Internet use is allowed to go unchecked. Stolen minutes add up, and they add up quickly. One employee who checks his email and social media accounts two or three times a day might spend as much as 60 minutes on non-work-related activity. That alone accounts for five hours a week, 20 hours a month and 240 hours a year of lost production time. Ultimately, that one hour a week translates into 10 work days a year that the employee is not working on the tasks at hand. For a large company employing 1,000+ people, the same one hour a day abuse by each employee translates into hundreds of lost work hours every week and many thousands of dollars in lost production time.
Finding the Balance
It is obvious that the potential for lost production time is enormous. No wonder employers are turning to more sophisticated security systems and video surveillance systems to control loss of production income. As long as the monitoring conforms to the law, and the employees are aware of the surveillance, a tracking system will probably satisfy both employees and their employers.