Employee Monitoring: Ethical Guidelines for Employers

employee monitoring ethics

With an increasingly distributed workforce, many businesses today monitor employees—both remote and in-office. There are many reasons why employee monitoring is beneficial for both employer and employee, but any tracking in the workplace understandably raises some eyebrows. 

Monitoring employees has legal and ethical concerns, so businesses and business owners must take collaboration and transparency seriously. When implemented correctly, employee monitoring software can increase productivity, help employees achieve more in their careers, and contribute to a better working environment.

Is Employee Monitoring Legal?

Most employee monitoring practices are legal under United States law. The federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) permits electronic monitoring of employee communications for legitimate business purposes. The law allows employers to utilize employee monitoring software to ensure smooth and safe operations.

The Stored Communications Act also allows employers to monitor employee conversations stored on company-owned devices or company-controlled cloud storage. Employers can legally review texts or email exchanges on company-owned devices like smartphones or laptops.

The exception is on employees’ social media accounts. Employers must obtain employee consent to review an employee’s personal communications and social media accounts used on a company-owned device, as they still have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Why is Employee Monitoring Software Growing in Popularity?

Today, 12.7% of full-time employees work from home, while 28.2% work in a hybrid model. 16% of the world’s companies are now fully remote. A distributed workforce is the primary driving force behind the growing popularity of employee monitoring software, but when you drill down to specifics, there are many reasons why companies are opting to monitor employees.

Prevent Insider Threats

Employee monitoring can be an organization’s best tool to defend against cybercrime or insider threats

Should a knowledgeable employee consider leaving an organization or start sharing private documents with outside sources, employee monitoring software helps the organization discover the potential threat before it becomes problematic. The organization doesn’t have to be punitive in its response; it may take this discovery as an opportunity to incentivize the employee to stay.

More importantly, employee monitoring can level up cybersecurity by detecting suspicious user activity or unauthorized access to the network. You can view websites visited, installed applications, and saved documents or files to determine risky user activity. With key insights into the source of potential cyber threats, you can mitigate them more effectively and identify cybersecurity training needs throughout the organization.

Hybrid and Remote Work Lead to Security & Productivity Issues

Employee monitoring software isn’t just for safeguarding the organization internally. Hybrid and remote employees often spend their days on public WiFi at libraries or coffee shops in addition to their home network. Organizations have no control over the security of networks beyond their own. Employee monitoring software helps organizations establish more robust cybersecurity standards for remote and hybrid employees.

Although research shows that employees are up to 47% more productive when working from home, there are always exceptions. Employee monitoring software tracks productivity outside the office, which is a good litmus test for whether remote work suits your employees.

Prevent Data Leaks

Data leaks are disastrous for customers and an organization’s reputation. A common way they happen is through internal mishandling of data. Although data compliance regulations have gotten more stringent—especially in Europe with GDPR—all it takes is one individual oversight to cause a data leak.

Employee monitoring software helps enforce data compliance and regulations by giving the organization insight into how all teams handle data.

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Improve Business Processes

One of the best uses of employee monitoring software is identifying ways to improve day-to-day operations. With greater insight into how individuals and teams work, you can get a bird’s-eye view of processes from payroll to inventory processing.

Every company should have an improvement mindset; employee monitoring software helps implement that value.

Find Unproductive Employees

Companies are only as strong as their people. Employee monitoring software helps identify less productive employees, whether due to work ethic or talent.

Again, actions taken don’t have to be punitive. If you’re finding many unproductive employees, the question to ask may be why so many people aren’t feeling motivated at your company.

Compliance and Risk Mitigation

Depending on the industry, companies may have various individual compliance and risk mitigation requirements to uphold. Specific industries may have stringent regulations and require complete organizational buy-in to remain compliant. Employee monitoring software helps enforce those standards and identify potential dangers to the company.

How To Ethically Monitor Employees

Employee monitoring technology has myriad benefits, but that doesn’t mean employees will celebrate being tracked. You need rank-and-file buy-in to make an employee monitoring program successful. Transparency and a collaborative spirit are crucial to making employees feel comfortable and avoiding a hostile work environment.

Let Employees Know What’s Being Monitored

Don’t make employees guess what is and isn’t being monitored. Failing to inform employees about employee monitoring systems potentially violates privacy laws and violates employees’ expectations of privacy, hurting employee morale. Your legal counsel is valuable in ensuring your employee monitoring efforts are legal.

Always inform employees what data is and isn’t collected, how it will be used, and who can access it. A good employee monitoring solution will have analytics for individuals to see and use their data to better understand work patterns and behaviors.

Only Monitor Employees on Corporate Devices

Monitoring employees’ activity on personal devices without their consent or knowledge is a severe breach of privacy that could result in legal consequences. Monitoring activity on company-owned devices and clearly notifying employees is the safest way to remain compliant and retain employee trust.

Encourage Employees to Provide Feedback

An employee monitoring program shouldn’t feel like Big Brother. It’s an opportunity for the entire organization to improve, so you should invite employee feedback. Evaluate and state your motivations for implementing such a program, but also ask employees to think about the data they want to see about their work and how they’d like the company to use that data. 

After all, 92% of employees are willing to be monitored if they believe it will help their career development. Employee monitoring systems should help create a positive work environment.

Monitor Communication Channels

One of the primary reasons companies use employee monitoring software is to monitor communication channels to protect sensitive corporate information. It’s a smart move for an organization to make, but make sure you’re only monitoring company-centric channels like employee emails, Slack, and texts sent on company-owned devices. Avoid personal social media conversations and general internet usage.

Track Locations with Geolocation

Tracking employee locations is a good way to determine whether remote or hybrid workers are working or taking unrequested time off. Again, be transparent about tracking locations on company-owned devices.

Train Employees on Ethics and Compliance

Compliance and ethics regulations are complicated. Some employees must have proficient knowledge of regulations, but others may not need that information to do their jobs effectively. Nonetheless, ethics and compliance training will help communicate to employees why monitoring is essential. Your organization wants to avoid violations and provide valuable training that can help further employees’ careers. Ethical surveillance is a win-win.

Check Employee Idle Time

Nobody should be expected to work every second of every day. That said, you do expect employees to work most of their scheduled hours. Monitoring idle time is one of the most practical applications of employee monitoring software. Ensure both in-office and remote workers know you’re keeping an eye on employee behavior and how much time they’re spending away from work, but make sure they understand it’s okay to take short breaks throughout the day.

Set Up Rules and Alerts to Notify You of Major Issues

Spending your whole day watching what your employees are doing is not a good use of anyone’s time and will make employees resentful. Instead, set up rules and alerts in your employee monitoring software to inform you about suspicious activity, extended idle time, and other significant activities of employees and violations you want to know about.

How To Implement Employee Monitoring Software

Understanding the ethics of employee monitoring is a good start. If you’d like to add employee monitoring to your company policies, you need to know how to practically do so.

Confirm Monitoring Laws in Countries Where You Operate

Every country has different monitoring laws. For instance, while the US is more lax, the EU has stricter rules and regulations. Confirm both national and local monitoring laws wherever your organization operates.

Choose the Right Tools

Smaller companies may not need very robust monitoring tools. Larger companies may not want to budget for comprehensive services. Determine your budget, why you want to monitor employees, and take the time to research and test multiple options before choosing the right tools for your organization.

Determine What Needs to be Monitored

Identifying your reasons for monitoring employees is crucial for implementing a successful program. Not only will it help you be more transparent with employees, but it can also help you find the right tools.

Educate Employees About Monitoring Policies

Before implementing an employee monitoring program, set up a time to speak with employees directly about the new program. Ensure they understand what’s being monitored, why it’s being monitored, and how all that data will be used. Explain that it’s not just for the company’s good but also to help reward high performers and increase team success.

Review Monitoring Data Responsibly

As noted in the previous section, setting alerts for specific activities is an excellent way to ensure you only monitor data crucial to your employee monitoring mission. Don’t delve into the minutiae of everyone’s day-to-day conversations so you can stay current on company gossip.

Allow Employees to Provide Feedback About Monitoring

Employee buy-in is crucial to a successful employee monitoring program, and the best way to get buy-in is to encourage employees to give active feedback. Positive or negative, it doesn’t matter; just ensure employees feel heard.

Ethically Monitor Employees with Teramind

Teramind offers a robust, user-friendly platform to monitor employees ethically.

  • With real-time monitoring, it’s easier to identify opportunities to optimize employee productivity, detect insider threats, and prevent data loss.
  • Intelligent rules and automated alerts let you actively monitor 17+ communication channels without wasting time poring over reports or risking violating employee privacy.
  • Live screen record employee activity for educational or legal purposes if needed.
  • Prevent data leaks and exfiltration incidents with content-based DLP policies and rules.
  • Track file movements over local, network, cloud storage, external drives, and RDP transfers.
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What is employee monitoring ethics?

Employee monitoring ethics rely on transparency and collaboration. Organizations must be transparent about the data they monitor, why they monitor it, and how they use it to improve the organization and employee well-being.

What are ethical considerations in monitoring?

Organizations that monitor employees must be transparent and thorough about the data they monitor and why they monitor it. Employees should know exactly what activity is and isn’t tracked and on what devices. Employers should never monitor non-business-related activity on employees’ personal devices.

Is it illegal for employers to monitor employees?

US federal law makes monitoring employees legal so long as it’s done for legitimate business purposes. However, regulations vary from country to country.

Is it ethical for employers to monitor employees off-duty?

While organizations may continuously monitor employee activity on company-owned devices or platforms, monitoring off-duty activity on personal devices is unethical.

Is monitoring employees ethical or unethical?

Monitoring employees is ethical if done with complete transparency and legitimate business purposes to improve productivity and employee performance.

What is the difference between monitoring and surveillance?

The primary difference between monitoring and surveillance is the purpose behind each activity. While monitoring is intended to identify improvement opportunities, surveillance aims to reach punitive results.


In an increasingly distributed workplace, monitoring employees is a good way for organizations to increase productivity, protect customer and proprietary data, and elevate employee engagement and performance.

Employee monitoring software makes it easier than ever to implement a successful employee monitoring program. To run an ethical employee monitoring program, organizations must be transparent about how and why they’re monitoring employees and invite employees to collaborate and improve the program over time.

Request a Teramind Demo

Get a personalized demo of Teramind to learn how we help improve insider threat detection, employee monitoring, data loss prevention, and more to protect your organization.

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