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Remote Employee Monitoring: Is it legal and what are the regulations?

With the pandemic surging through the US at an alarming rate, many companies are forced to make the transition back to remote work once again. Employers have many concerns while they are forced on this roller coaster ride of a year. Although there are many concerns, I have continued hearing three common concerns: employee support, retained or improved productivity, and employee/customer information protection. These concerns have been heard and software development has been well underway to find a solution to this issue.

Many new software developments have been made in remote employee monitoring. Remote employee monitoring is the act of monitoring your employee’s devices and tasks during work hours. Companies use employee monitoring to gain insights into employee behavior and performance. This could include monitoring of internet use, keystrokes, screenshots, phone calls, emails, and even GPS tracking. Monitoring is allowing employers to track employee engagement, measure productivity and attendance, ensure security, and even collect proof in employee disputes.

The big questions for most employers that are looking into this type of software are: “Is it legal?”, “Are there restrictions?”, “Is it ethical?”, and “Is it worth it?”. As you read through this guide for remote employee monitoring, we will answer these questions plus many more.

Is it Legal? In short, employee monitoring (whether remote or in office) is completely legal in the US. As of now, only Connecticut and Delaware have any regulations set forth on this topic. Since there are only 2 states regulating employee monitoring in the US this leaves most of the US completely unregulated. But just because employee monitoring is largely unregulated does not mean that you have free reign quite yet. Employees have many other privacy laws in place that could affect monitoring. To fully understand your rights and obligations as an employer refer to state and federal laws such as: the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, the Stored Communications Act, and the General Data Protection Regulation.

Is it ethical? With every ethics question it is recommended to always tread lightly. Depending on how you go about employee monitoring is whether it will be considered ethical or not. For it to be considered ethical employers need to make sure they have certain policies and plans in place. The most important policy is to make sure that employees know that their devices are being monitored, what their devices are being monitored for, and how you are using this information. Although it is not always required, it is suggested that an agreement outlining these topics is signed by you and your employee to protect the employer and employee from any legal issues. While updating these documents it is recommended that companies also consider implementing or reviewing the following policies: an Electronic Communication Policy, Social Media Policy, Bring Your Own Device Policy, Sexual Harassment Policy, Confidentiality and Non-Disclosure Policies, and a Written Information Security Program.

Lastly, Is it worth it? This has been one of the clearest answers so far. Yes, it is completely worth it. The small investment in software not only helps your company stay on track to meet deadlines and increase productivity, but it helps to see when employees are struggling in certain areas. In the office these things would be apparent, but while working remotely employee’s struggles are harder to detect. Employees that are struggling in silence are not happy employees. Employee monitoring software helps to detect when employees are spending more time than others on certain projects or tasks. This helps employers to catch these issues quickly and gives the ability to sit the employee down for coaching. In the end it is a win-win for the employee and employer.

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