Four ethical considerations for using employee monitoring software on remote workers: associations now

By Ernie Smith / June 11, 2021
(Feodora Chiosea / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Using employee monitoring software on remote employees might seem like a smart way to deal with a difficult situation, but it could raise significant ethical issues, especially if a user’s work computer is also theirs. personal computer.

Many employers are facing a largely remote workforce for the first time in their history. And this change is creating a sudden interest in employee monitoring tools, which essentially allow employers to watch what an end user is doing.

But such tools have become controversial. Last year, The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) published a long report discuss the problems.

“Although aimed at helping employers, bossware endangers the privacy and safety of workers by recording every click and knock, secretly collecting information for lawsuits, and using other spy features that go well beyond what is necessary and proportionate to manage a workforce, ”the foundation’s Bennett Cyphers and Karen Gullo write.

Considerations for employee monitoring software

Given the increasing use of monitoring tools, it might be worth discussing the ethics of requiring employees to install them. Some considerations:

How does it change the dynamic between leaders and employees? As an article of The conversation RemarksThe use of such monitoring tools has the potential to backfire considerably, as it could break down a basic barrier of trust that leads to a strong relationship. “The uncomfortable reality is that many employers feel they have a right to monitor employee activity. If I pay their wages, they say, they should be doing my job. Their time is mine, ”says the report, written by researchers at Victoria University of Wellington. “The problem with effectively bullying employees to be productive is that it strongly suggests an organizational culture of mistrust. Yet research shows that mistrust undermines productivity ”.

Have you correctly researched your supplier? Can you trust them with worker data? Aside from privacy concerns, part of the problem with these tools is that they were often bought in a rush.a Adage item described the acquisition of such software as a “panic buy”. And while using such software is legal for employers, some of the tools, as the EFF notes, can retrieve data more aggressively than you need, even when doing things like the keystroke recording or access to webcam or microphone. If such tools are to be used, it is imperative that steps are taken to understand what the tools can do, the vendor’s track record, and that you can feel comfortable with your employees using them.

Does it also threaten the privacy of employees outside the clock? As the EFF notes, many employees use their work laptops as their primary computer, which means that the monitoring software can track not only their work life, but also their personal life. Additionally, these products can be used to access information, even inadvertently, that most end users would consider private. “Most products take periodic screenshots, and few allow workers to choose which ones to share,” Cyphers and Gullo write. “This means that medical, banking, or other sensitive personal information is captured with screenshots of work email and social media.” As IT security center Remarks, this could potentially create liabilities down the road.

Could the software be in contradiction with the mission of your association? Many associations have missions that advocate for things like consumer protection, privacy advocacy, ethical action, and other similar issues. Such software could create dilemmas if it undermines the goals of the association in some way. It is worth looking for where a balance can be found. As Reid Blackman put it in a Harvard business review item last May: “Considering the risk of employee alienation coupled with the possibility of error and misapplication of these tools, it is highly likely that for many, the juice is just not worth the effort. hurry.


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