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Workplace monitoring is a practice that involves keeping an eye on activities and conditions in a workplace for health, security, and business reasons. There are a number of tools that can be used for this task and employers can use the information they collect in a variety of ways. This practice can create a conflict between the reasonable expectation of privacy and an employer's need to run a business and there have been several high profile suits challenging workplace monitoring practices on the grounds that they violate employee privacy.
Tools for monitoring can include cameras, audio monitors, and monitoring of phone and computer use, either with logs or with manual monitoring by information technology personnel. Other practices can include random drug testing, periodic supervisor visits to a floor, consultation of logs associated with equipment like copiers, and the use of air quality monitors and other devices designed to check for environmental health risks.
Employers argue that workplace monitoring is needed to keep workplaces safe, healthy, and efficient. Keeping an eye on working conditions can allow people to spot problems like theft, harassment, and improper conduct early, before they become a problem. For businesses handling secure or confidential information, monitoring may be used to ensure that client privacy is protected. Monitoring can also provide clear safety benefits for employees, as in the case of closed circuit television systems used at places like banks.
Employees may resent monitoring, especially if it is extensive or intrusive. In some workplaces it may be considered a necessary term of employment, while in others, it can be considered a violation of privacy. Suits involving monitoring that has been done without employee knowledge or consent have sometimes been won on the grounds that the practice violated privacy.
The law on workplace monitoring is in a state of flux in response to changing technologies. While the law agrees that practices like walking the floor as a supervisor to check for misconduct and problems are entirely appropriate and legal, there have been debates about things like reading private email, recording phone conversations, and monitoring employees on camera. Monitoring without awareness is generally more complicated legal ground because employees do not have a chance to consent.
Some governments have passed laws specifically addressing workplace monitoring and outlining the legality of different monitoring practices. In other regions, much of the law concerning this practice is established through case law, as the result of lawsuits.