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5 Legal Ways to Monitor Employees

By Betty Wang, JD | Last updated on

Is it legal to monitor your employees? That really depends on what approach you take.

As invasive as it may sound, monitoring your workers can actually make them more productive, according to The Atlantic.

Of course, this doesn't mean that you should be a nit-picky, micromanaging stalker and watch your employees' every move(s). But when the situation calls for it, you may indeed need to monitor your employees. Here are five legal ways to do it:

  1. Email surveillance. Employees generally don't have a right to privacy in their emails at work. This means that if they are using a computer that belongs to your company, you can potentially monitor their communications on it. However, there are some legal limits to keep in mind. For example, employers can't just read employee emails without a legitimate reason for doing so -- such as needing to investigate another employee's harassment complaint.
  2. In-person check-ins. The more that your employee trusts you and is able to communicate with you, the higher the chances are of them being a better worker. Make sure you check in with your employees routinely: Have one-on-one meetings with them to maintain a good employer-employee relationship, without making them feel like they're in trouble for anything.
  3. Video surveillance. Smile! Being monitored by videocamera is generally legal in the workplace, as long as there's a legitimate reason for it, like for security purposes. However, employers may not use surveillance to monitor union activity, and state laws may vary on the extent of video monitoring. Also keep in mind that federal wiretap laws generally prohibit the recording of oral communication, so in most cases your surveillance video should be silent.
  4. Social media monitoring. Many small businesses have social media policies that will lay out what an employee can or cannot post on social networking sites about the company. However, remember that your policy can't be too restrictive. The National Labor Relations Act allows workers to discuss "concerted activity" -- anything that's related to improving work conditions -- via social media.
  5. General observations. Remember that your role as a small business owner calls for you to keep a general eye on your employees while they are at work. Always keep an eye out not only for behaviors that raise red flags, but also to make sure that your employees are being productive and happy.

Remember, however, that while some methods are legal, others are not. If you have more questions about how to legally monitor your employees, it may be best to consult an experienced employment lawyer near you.

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