In 1748’s Advice to a Young Tradesman, Benjamin Franklin coined the phrase, “Time is money.”
Keeping tabs how your time is spent is as important as knowing the contents of your bank account. So keeping thorough and accurate records is vital as businesses monitor how their employees spend their time. The data gathered can inform strategy, improve productivity, and supply employers with actionable data upon which to base their strategic decisions.
Employers can track employee activities for most business purposes when the employee is using a company device such as a desktop or laptop computer, operating on a worksite or company-owned property, or engaging in activities on company time.
Benefits of Monitoring Employee Time & Activity
Many employers choose to monitor in order to maintain a safe and productive work environment. The use of cameras on construction sites, for example, not only helps to prevent theft and vagrancy but can also help to identify potential unsafe practices and prevent workplace injuries before they happen.
Tracking can be used to create a record of employee time, movement, actions and other activities. Some other potential benefits of employee monitoring include:
- Accurate hour logging for payroll management.
- Addressing time usage inefficiencies.
- Prevention of time waste or physical theft.
- Protection against litigation or regulatory fines.
To What Extent Can Businesses Track Employee Time & Activity?
Generally speaking, employers’ right to monitor employees is subject to some individual rights to privacy. In Smyth v. Pillsbury Co., 914 F. Supp. 97 (E.D. Pa. 1996), a federal court ruled that employees had no privacy interest in emails sent from a company account, yet even this relatively accepted precedent on worker privacy continues to be a bone of much contention amongst businesses and labor groups.
Here are six common tracking methods employers generally have the right to use to monitor for activity:
- Closed Circuit Cameras: Transmit a signal so that employees may be observed remotely.
- Global Positioning System (GPS): A world-wide navigation system that provides location and time data; may be installed on work-issued cellular phones, employee ID cards or other devices.
- Website Blockers: Prevents employees from visiting websites which are known time-wasters.
- Packet Sniffers: Computer programs or hardware that can intercept and log traffic on a digital network.
- Desktop Monitoring Software: Logs keystrokes, intercepts video, monitors Internet use, and even gives remote access to files stored on a company-owned device.
- Monitoring Voice Mail: Although generally considered acceptable, this can get businesses into dicey territory. It’s best to have a good reason before listening to an employee’s voicemails.
The passive nature of packet sniffers, desktop monitoring software and GPS allows for tracking without making the employee feel that their privacy has been invaded. In many states, the law does not require employers to notify employees that they are being surveilled.
To What Extent Should Businesses Monitor Workers?
Limitations on employee tracking exist. Businesses who want to get the most out of monitoring efforts but want to do it the right way should first consult with technical and legal experts to ensure appropropriate regulatory compliance and satisfactory worker privacy.
Employers are not privy to workers’ private lives. They should not, therefore, require the username or password for employees’ social media. Accounts such as Facebook are protected if utilized solely for personal reasons or if the account is non-visible to the employer.
The Best Way to Track Employees: Be Transparent
Keeping tabs on workers need not effect a feeling that “Big Brother” is watching. Many monitoring platforms are accessible to workers themselves, are easy to use, and even put the impetus on employees to log their own activities.
Getting employees into the habit of logging their own time and activity empowers them with the same benefits the company gets: access to data, increased efficiency, and a more organized workload.
If you found this article helpful, may we suggest:
- For more on calculating hidden business costs, try using the Labor Burden Cost Calculator from Unique HR.
- For more on employee engagement, read Motivating Your Top Talent: 6 Employee Engagement Ideas.
- For more on managing workplace safety, read 6 Ways to Avoid Costly Workplace Safety Disasters.