A piece of software that managers can use to see which apps their employees are using, which websites they’re visiting, how much time they take to complete their tasks, when they came to work, when they made a break, and, if that wasn’t enough, a program that lets executives take a screenshot of any employee’s computer without them even realizing it - this is the full power of a system for employee screenshot monitoring and activity tracking, in all its glory.
As you can imagine, this kind of tracking software can be an invaluable tool for your business. It can help automate some of the processes, better estimate employees’ performance and understand how to more effectively improve productivity, but it can also prove useful for protecting sensitive documents and ensuring proof of work.
However, as you can also imagine, the widespread use of this system has been raising some concerns among the workforce, primarily in terms of whether managers being able to see all of their computer activities is even legal. This question is now largely behind us, we’ve discussed it in a couple of past articles, and it’s been settled that monitoring employees is perfectly legal in the great majority of cases.
And yet, the justification for the legality of some features of it is still hotly debated. The prime example, which we’re going to focus on in this article, is employee screenshot monitoring. Should employers have the right to peek into their employees’ computer screens whenever they feel like it? In other words, should this functionality be legal, and if so, should there be some boundaries?
These are the questions that we’ll try to answer by exploring the extent to which employers ‘have the right to know’, as well as by considering how this feature works. So, let’s get started!
Office Time: Who Does It Really Belong To?
First, let’s figure out whether employers really have the right to know absolutely everything that their employees are doing during official working hours. There are two broad views on this issue.
The first is the belief that the time workers spend in the office, doing the jobs they’re paid for by the business is really the company's time. After all, they use corporate computers and equipment, work for company's clients and on company’s projects, and not least importantly, they’re contracted and compensated to dedicate their time to the business. The principle is - my house, my rules. So, anything employees do can be considered relevant to know by the employer because it’s the company’s computers they use, and they could be doing something illegal, leaking information, etc. If workers really can’t resist checking their Instagram during office hours and don’t want their boss seeing any of it by using employee screenshot monitoring, they can simply use their own phones, for example.
The second view is that, even though employees use corporate machines and network and are supposed to work on company's projects, our professional and private lives are not so easy to cleanly separate for 8 hours a day. Therefore, employees have a right to check their personal accounts or enjoy some entertainment, at least during their mandatory break times. And they might not want to or be able to do this using their own technology. In this case, while it’s still OK for employers to know that a worker is browsing Amazon at the moment, it’s a violation of their privacy to snoop around their cart or collect their login details.
Manual or Automatic Screenshots
Another important factor to consider in order to decide whether employee screenshot monitoring should be legal is how this feature works and how it can be used. There are two types of screenshot implementation, each with its own advantages and drawbacks.
The first is manual screenshots. This implementation implies that you need to activate this feature manually by selecting the time and the employee whose computer you want the screenshot of. This method is seen as more targeted, and therefore more likely to be considered unfair by employees. It’s also less efficient if you need proof of work for a larger number of employees. However, you also run a smaller chance of collecting some personal data since you’re choosing when to activate the feature, which is a huge benefit.
Another employee screenshot monitoring implementation is automatic, where the system takes screenshots at random for a selected group of employees, or all of them. Obviously, this way is more fair because it’s indiscriminate and no specific employee is isolated and targeted. But at the same time, there’s a good chance that you could inadvertently capture something you’re not supposed to, such as personal correspondence, account details, etc.
Considering everything we’ve said about the issue of using the screenshot feature of employee tracking software, there’s no reason why this useful functionality should be illegal. After all, employees are working with client’s data and on company's time, and managers have the right to know that all the processes are performed according to the standards. However, employees still have the right to personal privacy and freedom, during break time at the very least, so steps should be taken to prevent any violations of this right.
So, what can you do to ensure the ethical use of screenshots?
The first tip is to use this feature in combination with app usage data in order to make sure that you’re not taking screenshots when employees are, for example, checking their bank account balance. If you do decide to use automatic screenshots, make sure to delete any captures of personal profiles, data, and so on, as soon as you discover them. There are even some solutions that automatically blur screenshots with personal data on them. And finally, it’s important to disclose the use of screenshots to your employees, not only because in some cases it’s required by law, but also because you want to give your workers an opportunity to opt for logging into their personal accounts via their phones in order to protect themselves.
So, let’s quickly summarize. Having in mind that employers have the right to know how their equipment, data and time is used, but also that employees have the right to a little bit of personal freedom even when at work, it’s fair to say that employee screenshot monitoring should be (and is) legal, but you need to be careful how you use it in order to make it ethical as well.