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Is Your Boss Allowed to Track Your Internet Usage?

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With so many people working from home now, one big question employees have started asking is: Can my boss spy on my Internet usage?

Simply put, it depends.

Each company is different and has its own security and privacy needs. Some businesses deal with a great deal of customer data and others don’t. It depends on the kind of work you’re doing for your company and agreements you made before starting. Use this guide to help you figure out if your boss is violating your privacy by monitoring your Internet usage.

Protecting customer data is a big concern

Corporations invest millions of dollars each year in making their data as secure as possible. Any small glitch can impact their business substantially. They hold the most sensitive data of their customers, and they need to ensure that information stays safe. Typically, companies protect the security and privacy of their customers’ data by asking employees to give up some of their privacy while dealing with customer information. They need to be sure employees handle that information properly.

Amplifying these concerns about employee activity and how much a boss can monitor is the coronavirus pandemic. People have been working from home more and more and employers have to ensure that workers are actually doing their jobs, as well as protecting customer information.

Understanding the boundaries of privacy and security of employees — especially those who work remotely — isn’t easy. As a remote worker, contractor, or part-time employee, you may not know what your rights are when it comes to your Internet activity being monitored. You do have rights to some privacy, and you should always ask questions before agreeing to do any work for a company.

Letting your boss track your internet usage: ask these questions first

Knowing whether your boss is allowed to track your activities online isn’t straightforward. You need to examine what kind of work you do, what type of contract you signed, and which devices you’re using.

What type of work do you do?

One of the first things you need to consider when it comes to your boss monitoring your activity is your employee status. Rules may differ for employees who are in the field and use mobile devices for work. 

If you are a contract employee — meaning you don’t get a W-2 and you are not under any direct agreements with the company on privacy and information sharing — it does not have the right to monitor your information. However, these rules vary by state so it may be wise to consult with an attorney to better understand your rights. 

What agreements have you made? 

Some companies will want to monitor your personal social media profiles, so that they can see your posts. The belief here is that since you will be employed by this company, you and your social profiles are a reflection of it. 

Companies may be in the right to ask to monitor your social media presence, but they also might not be. It depends on the actual agreements that you signed when you started. If you agreed to share certain information with your employer, then they have a right to gather that information.

What devices are you using? 

If you are looking up funny videos on the web while you are on the clock, while also working on a company computer, then yes, your employer does have a right to know. Some companies will block certain websites to prevent employees from even visiting them in the first place. 

If you are using your own computer, laptop, or mobile device, then you have a certain degree of privacy. However, if those same devices are used to access sensitive company information, then you may have to give up some of that privacy. You should make expectations about monitoring activity on your own device clear with your employer or company you work with if you’re a contractor.

If you discuss these issues with your boss and still aren’t sure what your rights are, it always helps to contact an attorney.

Information bosses should have access to

Everyone has a right to their privacy, including customers who give your company personal information to make a purchase. Sometimes, the only way to ensure that information remains protected is by monitoring the Internet activity of employees. Here are some reasonable examples to consider: 

  • Company email accounts: When your company gives you an email account, they have the right to monitor it. It concerns not only the communication you are having with their clients as well as other employees, but that’s also how you represent their company directly to others. 
  • Activities during work hours: If you are paid to work between a specific set of hours, the work needs to be done in that time. If you are using a company computer and Internet access to do non-work-related things, then the company does have a right to monitor you. 
  • Company accounts you have access to: Does your company have third-party accounts that you have access to? If you are transferring data from one platform to another, the company may need to monitor that transfer to ensure it’s clean and secure. It also shows that you are doing the work correctly so that the company knows you are not the reason any issues occur. 
  • Communication with clients: Client communication is paramount. Companies need to know every aspect of it because you will your job at some point or make a mistake and the company needs to know exactly what happened, where things were with the client, what was promised, and more. 

Screen monitoring software is a great option for both the employee and the employer as it ensures the work is done correctly and on time. As this kind of software can be turned on and off, it also gives the employee the freedom to use a personal device for work activities. They can simply turn the screen monitoring software off when they start doing personal stuff. 

When you look at a company’s vulnerability and the power they give employees, especially when they are working remotely or with sensitive data, you can understand why security is such an important topic. Most companies will provide you with details about the information sharing and monitoring they use prior to getting started. However, if your employer has recently made these changes, then you may want to review your legal options, especially if they go against any previous agreements made.

Information bosses should not have access to 

Although your boss can reasonably access some data while you’re on the job, there’s other data they should not have access to. It’s important to know your company’s policies specifically, so you understand what’s acceptable and what’s not. With that in mind, the following types of information should typically not be shared with your boss: 

  • Your personal phone: The ability to reach you whenever or wherever via your cell phone is a privilege for companies, not a right, unless they are paying for the actual phone. If it’s your phone, the fact that you can get emails, texts, make calls with clients and coworkers and access other important information on your phone does not give the company the right to access your online activity. If they are concerned about your access on the device, then they should not offer access via mobile devices. 
  • Your personal accounts: While working, you may need to check your personal bank account to make a payment or see if a check has cleared. If you are not using a company computer or have a screen capture software on, the company has no right to access that information. 
  • What you do on your personal time: If you are sitting at home, after hours, on your personal computer looking at new job opportunities, it is not the right of the company to monitor that information. Your boss has no reason to know what you are doing in your personal time. 
  • Extra work: This is one of the biggest concerns employees have and why they do not want their Internet activity monitored. Many people have to work more than one job and while they are doing that work, or looking for it, they need their privacy. People have the right to earn extra money, especially if they are doing it on their own time and they are not allowing this work to interfere with their current job. 

The question of whether or not your boss has the right to monitor your Internet usage comes down to the circumstances and their need for control. If you are using your personal devices, on your time, and following the agreements you made with your employer, then no, your boss does not have the right to invade your personal activity like that. Remember, the best way to be sure is to consult with legal counsel. 

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