Does My Employer Have the Right to Monitor What I Search on My Computer/Phone When I’m Connected to Wi-Fi?
Most people who have computers at work have used their computers for personal reasons at least once, if not regularly. Your employer has the right to monitor activity on your work computer. In certain circumstances, they can also monitor nonwork devices if you are using the Wi-Fi at your office. For anyone working in an office, it is important to know how and what your employer monitors while you are at work.
What Can My Employer See?
Your employer can see almost everything that travels through work devices or over the work network. Some of the things your company may be monitoring include:
- Internet usage
- Stored files
- Anything displayed on your screen
- Amount of time you spend on the computer
- The websites you visit and how long you are on each one
- The words you use online
- Your emails
- Instant messaging and chatting
Your employer can most likely also access files and emails that you delete, so trying to hide information by deleting it will not keep your employer from looking at it. Your employer also can track and listen to phone calls, voicemails, and text messages. Be careful about what comes to your work devices because your employer can most likely access the information.
Company-Owned Devices vs. Personal Devices
Your company has the right to monitor any of its work devices. If they own the device, they can search through it, even if the information is not from a work email or work-related platform. Your employer cannot legally access information or data on your personal devices without a court order. However, if you send or receive information on your personal device using the company’s network, your employer can monitor it. If you want to make personal phone calls or communications, make sure you are not on your company’s network.
If your employer finds incriminating information from monitoring your devices, he or she can legally fire you. Even if it is not damaging or dangerous information, your employer can fire you for using the internet for non-work related purposes. There are some exceptions:
- Employees in a union. Many union employees have the right to fight discipline spurred by monitoring.
- Concerted activity. Your employer cannot fire you for expressing negative sentiments about the company or doing any union organizing over work devices, according to the National Labor Relations Act.
- Your employer most likely cannot fire you if you are writing emails or conducting communications about something illegal the company is doing.
Electronic Communications Privacy Act
The Electronic Communications Privacy Act outlines the rights people have when they use electronic devices. Lawmakers created it to protect people’s electronic communications. However, there are three exceptions that provide employers with the legal right to monitor information:
- An employer can monitor an employee’s devices if he or she believes it is best for the business or will improve the company in ways involving customer service, preventing harassment, and making sure people are working.
- If one party in the monitoring gives consent, it is legal. As long as an employer gives notice that he or she is going to monitor devices, he or she can monitor without getting consent from the employees.
- The owner of any email, instant messaging, or phone messaging system can access the communications on that system.
Employers will usually include information about electronic monitoring in introductory information or employee handbooks when you first begin working at a company.
Contact a Tampa Employment Lawyer
If you are confused about the policy or concerned about what your company can access, re-visit your company’s information, or contact