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Privacy in the workplace – a Local and Global Perspective
Technology has enabled the world to work as efficient as possible, allowing individuals to work from any part of the world. A computer allows us to check social statuses, send e-mails, and to pay bills, all with the touch of a button. Unfortunately, the utilization of technology in the workplace has sparked significant controversy. Employers feel it is necessary to monitor employees while on the clock, watching emails, web traffic, and more to ensure the employees are following daily tasks. Employees feel that intense monitoring is an invasion of privacy, making employees feel untrusted by their employer. The study conducted will determine if the approaches used by employers voids ethical constructs.
Section 2 of the study will discuss values of privacy and its correlation with the Utilitarian approach. Section 3 will provide a brief explanation of the current ongoing dispute between employers and employees, providing arguments from each party. Section 4 will compare privacy laws on a global perspective, comparing the United States’ and the United Kingdom’s laws regarding digital privacy in the private workplace.
- The value of privacy
Privacy is a valuable concept that should be practiced in all environments. In Chris Meyers Journalism Ethics: A Philosophical Approach, defines privacy as, “The protection of one’s innermost self by determining who or what enters our personal life space.”  However, a gray area is created in a workplace environment due to employers invading an individual’s privacy until the workday is over. This privacy invasion is unavoidable to some extent, the employer is trying to uphold the highest quality in the workplace. Unfortunately, some employers tend to over step boundaries, leaving only ethics to judge the scenario. The optimal approach to rate an employer’s approach is to practice the Utilitarian Approach. The Utilitarian Approach follows the idea that the best approach is the one that causes the least pain and/or distress amongst the mass . Meaning, if the employer were to instantiate a new process that ended up harming a large percentage of the mass, it should not be in place.
- Digital Privacy – from a local perspective
An individual’s right to privacy seems to evaporate when walking into their place of work with all of the monitoring tools instantiated by the employer. The employer’s reasoning is to ensure that employees are completing tasks and are not utilizing company time for personal matters. Of course, surveillance in the workplace brings concern to the employees, feeling untrusted and ruining moral in the work place.
3.1. Employers perspective
A business has many moving parts, making the room for error small. If a company were to have a minor hiccup, it could affect not only the company, but everyone associated with it. With the age of technology increasing the ability of communication on demand, it also has allowed for greater possibilities for vulnerabilities and distractions. Especially if the company has hundreds to thousands of employees working under it.
Employers have strict network surveillance to alleviate the possibility of a data breach. In 2018, TechRepublic reported 49% of cybercrimes against 700 million company work stations were committed using Malware – software developed to infiltrate computers without the user’s knowledge. Over 25% of these Malwares were spread through malicious links in employee emails . Malware has the ability to travel the internal network, allowing the virus to spread across the company. An infection is difficult to completely remove especially if the malware has spread across the internal network.
Technology has also allowed for personal distractions in the workplace. With social media, emails, and smart phones, it makes it extremely easy for individuals to get distracted. For example, Spiceworks Help Desk – an inventory and ticketing system that keeps track of devices on a network, allowing for monitoring, deploying, and maintenance of devices, surveyed 645 companies across North America and Europe about employees spending time on non-work-related websites per week. The survey produced results from companies that did not block any websites had over 41% of employees spend 4 hours or less, 32% spent between 4-6 hours, 17% spent 7-10 hours, and 9% spent more than 10 hours on unaffiliated websites, respectively. The remaining 1% of employees did not spend any time on unaffiliated website, which is extremely low. However, when Spiceworks surveyed companies that blocked strictly social media, the company reported better results. 64% of employees were 4 hours or less, 18% spent 4-6 hours, 8% spent 7-10 hours and 4% spending more than 10 hours on unaffiliated websites. The increase of employees not utilizing non-related websites increased to 6% .
3.2. Employee Perspective
The practice of monitoring in the workplace by employers can create a barrier if done incorrectly. The issues that tend to arise from intense employee monitoring are distrust and fear of the employer. Possibly resulting in a performance decrease or high turn overrates amongst the company.
A common theme that concerns employees is the monitoring of personal social media accounts by an employer, fearing the results of the employees account may indirectly initiate the relief of their position. The definition for this process is called doocing – “meaning to be fired from a job for something written on or posted within a personal blog.”  Companies may look at this practice as a form of defense, insuring the companies integrity is not being harmed by false accusations. However, this kind of monitoring instills fear in the employees due to the feeling of being controlled by employers even off the clock.
Employers typically monitor the work networks and the company computers associated with it. When employees are viewing personal information such as emails or documents on the work machine, it has a chance of being viewed by the employer. A study was conducted by Gartner, and surveying employees on monitoring tactics in the workplace. Gartner’s statistics revealed that 25% of their employees found reading emails unacceptable and over 30% had mix feelings. Also, 37% of employees found analyzing phone transcripts unacceptable and 28% had mix feelings. .
- Digital Privacy – from a global perspective
Technology may give the world a unified experience, but laws practice in each country are extremely different. To get a better understanding of digital privacy handled globally, law’s in two of the world’s biggest influencers in the digital age will be reviewed.
4.1. The United States
In the United States, laws tend to favor the employer. In most scenarios, if the employer owns the property the employee is utilizing, the employer has the right to monitor it. A majority of employers use some form of surveillance. For example, “the American Management Association nearly 80% of major companies now monitor employees’ use of e-mail, Internet, or phone.” 
However, there are many laws that protect the employee, such as The Electronics Communications Privacy Act (ECPA). The ECPA was established in 1986 which is essentially an addon to the Wiretap Act of 1968. The Act, “protects wire, oral, and electronic communications while those communications are being made, are in transit, and when they are stored on computers. The Act applies to email, telephone conversations, and data stored electronically.”  ECPA’s make it illegal to listen into or record personal phone conversations without consent of all parties involved. This even applies to personal phone calls made with employer’s property. However, when emails and/or personal data is stored on the employer’s workstation, it voids the protection laws because the data is being stored on the employer owned machine. This still creates a gray area for both the employer and employee, hence why employers construct a form a contract when onboarding with the company. The contract usually forfeits all data that is stored on company devices both on and off site.
Another approach for security in the workplace is via CCTV camera. Currently, in the United states there are no laws directly preventing employers from recording employees in the workplace. The Wiretap Act does prevent audio recording in most public places unless all conditions are met, leaving most employers disabling the audio to avoid legal penalty. However, the National Labor Relations Act prevents employers from recording Union Employees. Meaning, cameras and/or audio recording devices cannot be placed where Union meetings, conversations, or activities take place. 
4.2. The United Kingdom
The United Kingdom’s laws closely reflect the U.S. For example, in 1998 the Data Protection Act was formed ensuring that, “employer must make sure your personal data or information is ‘processed’ in a fair and lawful way.”  By law, the employer cannot share any personal information such as: details of pay, sick days taken, disciplinary record, etc. But the Data Protection Act does not prevent your employer from monitoring internet traffic, emails, and phone usage. However, the employer must make a policy clearly stating what and why the employee’s activities will be monitored. 
The newest revision to the Data Protection Act in 2018 instilled many new guidelines in favor of the employee. Even though the Act was updated mainly to protect customers from large Tech companies from gathering unnecessary data without informing the individual, it also effects employees. The new Act enforces that personal data is only gathered if needed, kept only for the time it is needed, and is deleted upon request. Also, the revision allows for the individual to request all personal data held by the company, and an explanation to why it is being held. 
The following Human Rights Act does have an impact on surveillance in the workplace. Article 8 of the Human Rights Act provides protection to the privacy of the individual and their family. This prevents employers from recording employee without consent.
- Ethical Analysis
Analyzing the local workplace gave insight on why employers felt the need to in-place monitoring tools on the technology in the workplace. With over 49% of cybercrimes in the workplace being malware infections and 99% of employees abusing access to the internet for non-work-related tasks. When employees were surveyed only 25% were against email monitoring and 37% against phone monitoring.
On the global scale, the United States many laws do not protect the employee, most of laws lean toward employers. The Electronics Privacy Act only protects the individual’s personal computer, the employers have the right to access any data on the company owned device. the United Kingdom’s laws reflected the United States until the recent revision of the Data Protection Act, allowing the employees to have more control over their personal information. Both countries allow surveillance of the work, but a gray area still exists, forcing employers to create consent forms to avoid legal penalties.
However, from the Utilitarian approach of ethics, the global laws protect the majority. For example, the laws protect personal computers but not personal information on employers’ computers because of issues of cyber security and employees not following proper procedure. Allowing employers to control the data in the work area keeps the team proficient and the data safe of both employees and customers alike. Also, when the company was surveyed only a quarter of the employees apposed email and phone monitoring. deeming data monitoring in the workplace ethical because it satisfied the majority.
- Meyers, C. (2010). Journalism ethics a philosophical approach. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Cortini, M., & Fantinelli, S. (2018). Fear for Doocing and Digital Privacy in the Workplace: A Dual Pathway Model. Management Revue, 29(2), 162–178. https://doi-org.ezproxy.fiu.edu/10.5771/0935-9915-2018-2-162
- How Do Employees Really Feel About Being Monitored? (2017, March 01). Retrieved from https://www.cebglobal.com/talentdaily/how-do-employees-really-feel-about-being-monitored/
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