The Ethics of Employee Monitoring


By Devin Partida, Editor-in-Chief, ReHack.com

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s been a sharp increase in the number of remote employees across the globe. Many companies adopted a hybrid approach, where employees come into the office a few days of the week and stay home for others.

A major concern arising from the current work-from-home situation is the concept of employee monitoring and surveillance. With an unprecedented number of remote workers in today’s workforce, employers are making the extra effort to track employee metrics — think productivity, time spent on websites, and email monitoring, for example.

Some laws work to protect either employers or employees and any methods of communication they use in the workplace. Take the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986: a major federal law that gives employers the right to monitor employee communications, including emails and verbal or written conversations, under certain circumstances.

Additionally, some states enforce privacy protection laws for their residents, and it’s critical for employers in those respective states to comply with these laws to reduce the risk of future litigation.

Below is more information regarding different types of employee monitoring, some of the ethical concerns over where to draw the line of privacy, and how employers can remain lawful in their employee surveillance.

Types Employee Monitoring

One of the more significant concerns as employers across the world made the transition from in-person work to remote work is the worry that employees will slack off or waste company time and money if they aren’t being monitored in some way.

The list below describes various types of employee monitoring that companies worldwide are using to prevent productivity losses:

  • Time tracking
  • Keystroke logging
  • GPS fleet tracking
  • Video surveillance
  • Website browsing/history/time spent on webpages
  • Email tracking
  • Application tracking
  • Social media tracking
  • ID card tracking
  • Network monitoring

With technology advancing rapidly, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that many different types of employee monitoring tools are available to employers in all industries. Some monitoring tools even leverage artificial intelligence (AI), which may present new challenges in the future of remote work.

What are some of the ethical concerns over this monitoring?

Ethical Considerations for Employee Monitoring

Employees expect and deserve a certain level of privacy protection, even in the workplace. Attitudes over work-from-home employees and how much privacy they should be granted have changed due to the pandemic.

Below are some ethical considerations employers should factor into their decision on whether or not to use different forms of employee monitoring.

Reduction of Employee Morale and Establishing Trust

Employees who are being monitored may feel a sense of discomfort. Recent research shows that 59% of employees feel stress or anxiety about their online activity during the workday. In the same research, 43% of employees believe monitoring software violates trust, 28% say the tools make them feel “unappreciated,” and 26% think that it gives them feelings of resentment.

Employers can look at these valuable insights to help them make more informed decisions about monitoring.

Monitoring Employees Without Them Knowing

While employees should always assume a basic level of confidentiality when it comes to their professional life, companies need to be clear and transparent about their monitoring practices. A survey by Dtex Systems found that 77% of employed Americans would be less concerned about being monitored if their employers were upfront and transparent about their practices.

To reiterate, employers do have a right to measure productivity levels. If a remote employee is operating on a company-owned device, it’s commonly known that attitudes toward privacy shift. If employers have malicious intentions with their monitoring tools, then it’s clear that employees have a right to address their concerns.

If employers are looking to stay updated on their employees’ productivity and use this monitoring as a tool rather than a punitive measure, employees would likely feel a sense of protection and reassurance. It could even enhance employee productivity, which the transition to remote work has brought to the workforce.

Final Verdict on Ethical Employee Monitoring

A key factor employers should consider first and foremost is the set of laws and regulations regarding employee monitoring in their state. It’s paramount that employers follow federal and state guidelines to prevent future litigation cases.

If an employer believes that employee monitoring is crucial to succeeding and can employ lawful tools and keep employees informed, monitoring employees may be appropriate.


Devin Partida is an industrial tech writer and the Editor-in-Chief of ReHack.com, a digital magazine for all things technology, big data, cryptocurrency, and more. To read more from Devin, please check out the site.


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