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Can Employers Monitor an Employee’s Online Activity?

Most industries today rely heavily on technology to perform even basic work tasks. With the near-constant use of computers in the workplace, what happens if an employee checks their social media or browses their favorite online store during work hours? Policies on personal use of technology will vary by company, but it is important to know that as an employee you are likely being monitored while you surf the web. When employers monitor their employees’ online activity it can feel like an invasion of privacy, but it can also be a necessary measure. To learn more or for legal representation reach out to a Marquette employment lawyer for assistance.

Is Monitoring Employee Online Activity Legal?

Under United States federal law, it is legal for employers to monitor their employees in numerous ways. The only caveat is that they must respect the privacy of their employees and not violate HIPPA laws by sharing personal information that they may come across.

Employers are within their rights to install tracking software on company-owned computers, phones, and other technology. An employee should never have an expectation of privacy when in the workplace or when using a company device or car.

What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Monitoring Employee Activity?

Some people feel strongly that monitoring employee activity is morally wrong and an invasion of the employee’s privacy. Other people feel that it is useful in an employment setting. Regardless, online tracking of employees’ activity is now widely accepted as the norm. However, there are both pros and cons to monitoring employee activity. Some examples are listed below.


  • It allows employers to protect sensitive or confidential business information
  • Tracking software strengthens general cybersecurity
  • It can help identify inappropriate or misuse of company resources and time
  • It can assess ways to increase productivity
  • Monitoring can be beneficial to keep tabs on remote employees and ensure their work is being done on time and correctly


  • Monitoring can lead to increased turnover if employees feel like they are not trusted and therefore morale is low
  • Employees lose their sense of privacy and if information is hacked private employee data may be exposed
  • To make full use of tracking software someone must analyze the information, creating time-consuming and strenuous additional work

What Tools Can Employers Use to Monitor Their Employees?

With the advancement of technology, there is an array of software and tools that can be used to monitor employee activity during work. The following is a brief list of some ways that employers track their workers’ activity, but the options are endless.

  • Biometrics: software that captures screenshots of the employee’s computer at random times and keeps records of keystrokes
  • Browser monitoring software: tracks what websites or apps are being visited and when
  • Email monitoring: employers have access to emails sent, received, and deleted by employees
  • Communication platforms: business messaging apps such as Teams or Slack track intercompany conversations
  • GPS: company cars or trucks have navigation devices installed and can see where you go, when, and what route you take
  • Access restriction: banning the use of certain websites or apps to prevent distraction or inappropriate behavior

Some of the most restrictive companies even require remote workers to appear on a live video feed during work hours. This is a controversial measure that many people argue invades the privacy of the employee and their home.

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