Remember the days when the only thing your boss could realistically find out about your personal life was what you chose to reveal? It used to be that your work persona, behavior, and activity was all a boss had access to–office gossip or outrageous scandal notwithstanding. Not anymore. Technology has not only made it possible for your boss to find out virtually everything about your personal business, but it’s actually legal for him or her to do so in many cases. In fact, your boss may be digging into your life in ways and to an extent you don’t even realize.
The extent to which your employer can monitor and access your personal business varies by state; six states now prohibit employers from asking for your social media passwords, for example. But many get around such restrictions by including language in the company handbook or pile of papers and contracts you sign when you are hired that allows them to access or track your activities. This is something to keep in mind and look for when you are starting a new position.
Here are six ways your boss may be watching you:
Video and Voice Recording
In the U.S. video monitoring in the workplace is legal even if your employer doesn’t tell you or obtain your consent, with the exception of private areas such as restrooms. Video monitoring may be used to prevent theft or keep tabs on employee productivity.
Wiretap and eavesdropping laws put greater restrictions on recording phone calls and other audio recording, requiring that one or all parties involved be aware of the recording, depending on the state. However, it’s not uncommon for employers to record phone calls, particularly in customer service positions. Your employer can get your consent to record conversations by including it with the other forms you sign when you are hired.
If you use a computer at work, it’s extremely likely that your boss is monitoring your internet usage, and you can be disciplined for messing around online when you’re supposed to be working. Visiting social media, looking at porn, and online shopping even on your lunch hour may violate your company’s internet policy and could get you fired. Web surfers beware.
If you think your employer can’t monitor your private email, think again. Company email accounts are fair game, obviously, but your private email account isn’t necessarily safe, either. If you access your personal email through a work computer or device, your employer can look at it. Although the Electronic Communications Privacy Act prevents an employer email-reading free-for-all, it’s fairly easy to circumvent, so keep your personal email and work devices well separated to maintain full privacy.
Did your employer provide your smartphone? If so, they could be monitoring every single thing you do on it, both work-related and private. Many employers use keylogger apps to keep track of everything people do with their company-owned smartphones, including texts, calls, emails, browsing, even GPS tracking so they can tell where you are at any given moment. The good news is that employers must disclose whether your phone has monitoring software installed on it. If you aren’t sure, ask. The easiest fix is to buy a second phone for personal use and keep your work-issued one for business only.
Most companies have policies that prohibit employees from posting about their jobs or employers on social media. Likewise, if you are using social media in a way that proves you’re violating corporate policy, you can be fired for it. Some companies even hire third-party companies specifically to monitor employee social media activity. Even if your accounts are private, in most states it is still legal for employers to demand your passwords—although that is rapidly changing—so be careful what you post.
You may think that what you do off-duty and how you document it on your privately-owned smartphone, for example, is absolutely private and cannot get you in trouble at work, but think again. Just last week the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Stored Communications Act (SCA), designed to protect your electronic communications kept in temporary backup storage, does not apply to cellular phones. The ruling was based on a case where a police dispatcher from Texas was fired after her smartphone was taken out of her unlocked locker by a third party and shown to her supervisors. The Court ruled that the SCA only applies to users and providers, but that a phone is neither.