Management Ethics

The Ethics of Monitoring Employee Internet use in the Workplace



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The debate of whether or not employers should monitor their employees' Internet use in the workplace often provokes a lot of passion. One side of the fence feels companies should have the right to exert tight control over their assets. The flip side of the coin feels employees are entitled to privacy during the time they are on the web.

While both sides make good arguments, there are pros and cons to employee Internet monitoring. In addition, there are many ethical considerations for a company to think about when deciding whether or not they should go ahead and put monitoring software or hardware in place.

As technology evolves and higher levels of monitoring capabilities are introduced, managers literally have the ability at their fingertips to see what their employees are doing during the course of a workday. There are a lot of factors to weigh during the decision or whether or not employees should be monitored as they use the Internet.

Finding an acceptable balance is not always as easy as it may sound. Since the Internet has become such a prominent part of daily operations and the line between personal and work life has blurred, today's managerial decision makers are faced with unique challenges in the workplace that they've never had to think about before.

From an ethical standpoint, do employees have the right to monitor Internet activities in the workplace?

It can certainly be argued employers do have this right. Businesses have purchased the company computer equipment, pay to maintain networks and absorb all costs associated with maintaining technology. From this perspective it is believed businesses should have the right to protect their assets.

Additionally the risk of malware such as viruses, worms, Trojans and spyware has increased significantly, not to mention the problem of spam cluttering up mailboxes and taking up bandwidth. By keeping a tighter control on employee Internet use, an additional layer of protection can be created in an attempt to ensure company networks, or even individual desktops, are not infected with malicious code. Any infection could seriously impact company technology and potentially knock the company offline or compromise confidential or proprietary data. In addition to the risks of breach, it is costly in terms of time and resources to fix problems.

On the flip side of the argument employees are certainly entitled to breaks, lunch hours or other designated times where they are not on the clock, but in the building. Shouldn't staff have the right to check their e-mail, do their banking, shopping or other Internet needs on their free time?

Everyone deserves a level of privacy, but the unfortunate thing is too many employees abuse Internet privileges and do not restrict their surfing activity to appropriate times of the work day. This has impacted productivity, which ultimately leads to issues with profitability.

If you think about it, it makes sense, if an employee is spending their days on Facebook or other favored website, they are not effectively getting their job done. This lack of focus on work is costly to the company. Employers do not often take lightly to paying for hours of work that is not being completed.

As a result employers have felt the need to eliminate liberal Internet use policies and put higher restrictions on Internet activity and monitor what's going on with their equipment. Many people take offense to this and feel their privacy is being violated. And employees should have the right to privacy, shouldn't they?

On the same token employees should respect the workplace and not engage in inappropriate Internet practices at work. Trust and respect is a two way street and in order for things to flow properly, both sides of traffic have to adhere to solid practices and do the right thing.

The bottom line is that employee Internet monitoring is likely to continue to rise as the tools become available. While there are some ethical considerations to be considered of this practice, the reality of it is the company owns the technology and has a right to protect it and ensure their dollars are being paid out in exchange for company work being completed.

While some companies go overboard in terms of big brother style monitoring, most are merely protecting their interests. If employees have issues with being monitored, perhaps it is better to conduct personal business from home.

More about this author: Leigh Goessl

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