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Can Your Business Monitor Employees' Movements in the Office?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on February 16, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Email. Social media. Even personal cell phones. There is a lot of employee activity that employers my legally monitor. But what about their actual movements throughout the office? Most employers can install and run video surveillance in the office, but that's yesterday's technology. Nowadays, bosses have employee badges fitted with microphones and sensors that can track physical and verbal interactions, all through an app.

So is this kind of movement monitoring legal? And does it depend on the reasoning behind the surveillance?

The Light's On

Bloomberg has the story of one employee monitoring company, Enlightened, who can place sensors "hidden in lights, ID badges, and elsewhere," in order to track employee movements. By knowing where and when employees move through a working space, offices can become more efficient, both in layout and energy usage. But it's not just about which lights are on or who's not at their desk. Some sensors can track "latency," or "how long someone goes without speaking to another co-worker."

For the most part, monitoring this intrusive remains in pilot stages with employees volunteering to be monitored. The majority of data collected is anonymized, and most companies have assured employees they will not to use it for performance evaluation. "It doesn't bother me," one such monitored employee told Bloomberg. "It's kind of cozy when you're working late at night to be in a pod of light."

Anything They Want

In general, employers are on solid legal footing with this kind of surveillance. Lewis Maltby, president of the National Workrights Institute told Bloomberg, "Employers can do any kind of monitoring they want in the workplace that doesn't involve the bathroom."

With a few caveats, of course. Some forms of employee monitoring require notice be given to employees. And there are certain kinds of employee speech that is protected under the First Amendment and labor law. To find out what legal limits your business might face when monitoring employees, talk to an experienced employment attorney.

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