Employees’ Privacy versus Employers’ Right to Monitor

Posted on May 22, 2009 
Filed Under General

Managers have long been wary of their employees’ extracurricular activities in cyberspace, whether it’s a question of their profiles on social networks or the content of their personal blogs. There have even been a slew of well-documented tête-à-têtes between employees and their bosses, usually occurring when the latter unceremoniously fires the former for their digital dalliances. In most cases, both sides were able to mount strong defenses, leaving judgments of right versus wrong to the public.

Now, a new study released by Deloitte points to a trend of managers exerting heightened control over employees’ online behavior in the name of protecting against reputational risks. Sixty percent of surveyed business executives said they believe they have a right to know how employees portray themselves and their organizations in online social networks, but an almost-equal percentage of employees (53%) disagree, saying their social networking pages are not an employer’s concern. The crux of the issue is easy to identify: Who is acting within their rights, employees or employers?

It’s a question I posed on PR News’ LinkedIn group, which received a number of responses in defense of both sides. Some were very pro-employee: “I think it’s unfair … Does an employer have the right to read one’s diary, to listen to one’s personal conversations outside of work, etc.—no. It’s a slippery slope, and can lead to a great deal of discrimination, privacy, etc. issues.”

Others strongly defended employers’ right to monitor social media content: “I’m amazed that anyone would even think an employer has no business/interest in what an employee is saying about them … Get over the worry about big brother. They are not monitoring YOU. They are monitoring mentions of the organization.”

As for my own feeling, I can see legitimate arguments on both sides. I personally make a concerted effort to keep my digital “self” at work separate from that at home (I used LinkedIn for professional interactions and limit Facebook for friends only), and I would be bothered to learn that my boss was monitoring my Facebook updates. That said, I would never even think about maligning my employer on ANY social media platform, personal, professional or otherwise. Either way you slice it, it’s a slippery slope, and it raises the question: Will privacy exist in the future?

By Courtney Barnes

Comments

  • http://vkontakte.com/ Mike

    Hi, nice posts there :-) thank’s for the interesting information

  • ES

    I believe that while we are all free to do what we please with our personal time and space, we also have to remember that when one joins a company, one joins a brand. Imagine that I worked for you and attended meetings and events where I not only represented my office, I represented brands that we represent. Then I am photographed drunk and passed out because I believed that I was on my own time. Unfortunately, most people cannot deal with your multiple personalities. You either choose to appear responsible to them or you don’t.

  • Tracy

    What about correspondence from Inbox and Sent Messages. This means your boss is accessing your account with your private password. This must be illegal. Surely.

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