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Can my Employer Monitor Employee Internet Activity?

Michael Pollick
By
Updated: May 16, 2024

The short answer is yes, most employers can indeed monitor employee Internet activity. In fact, many legal experts encourage employers to monitor employee Internet activity as a proactive measure, to protect themselves against potential litigation from their employees. Such harassment and discrimination lawsuits have proven to be very costly for employers who failed to diligently monitor Internet activity when the offenses first occurred in the workplace.

While the practice might seem like an invasion of privacy to employees, under most circumstances an employer can monitor employee Internet activity, including e-mails, browsing histories and downloaded files. When many employees are first hired by a company, they are presented with an employee handbook which details their rights and obligations while on company time. Many of these handbooks written or updated after the advent of the Internet specifically mention a "no expectation of privacy" policy when using company-owned computers, servers and printers. "No expectation of privacy" means just that; employees cannot and should not assume their electronic communications will not be examined by their employers at some point in history.

This does not mean that employers have the right to monitor Internet activity outside of the work environment, nor can they compel employees to produce e-mails composed on private e-mail providers such as Yahoo or Hotmail. The company legally owns all of the electronic equipment necessary to create and store e-mails on their own servers. It can also examine the caches and browsing histories of all company-owned computers. Some employers can even install special software designed to monitor employee Internet activity in real time from a remote location.

There is a difference between confidentiality and privacy where electronic communications at the workplace are concerned. The employee handbook may say there is no expectation of privacy, but there could be an expectation of confidentiality. In a typical scenario, an employer could discover an email containing very derogatory comments about an employee's supervisor. The employer most likely would not make the contents of that e-mail public, but he or she may decide to call the employee into his office to discuss the situation which prompted the e-mail. The information gathered when employers monitor Internet activity is considered to be the property of the company, but most employers realize that some communications are more sensitive than others.

In a world where employer-employee conflicts are often settled in courtrooms, not boardrooms, it makes sense for employers to monitor Internet activity in order to have documentation for future litigation. A female employee suing her supervisor for downloading an offensive screen saver on his publicly viewable computer monitor might make a convincing argument for a "hostile work environment." But the company itself may also be implicated in the lawsuit for not taking enough action against the supervisor in the first place. By allowing the offensive screen saver to be downloaded onto company-owned equipment, the company could be held just as liable as the individual supervisor. Only by demonstrating an effort to monitor employee Internet activity could the company hope to separate itself from the lawsuit.

While monitoring an employee's Internet activity may seem Big Brotherish to some, it does serve to keep employees more conscientious about their workplace habits. Having access to the Internet and e-mailing services during work hours, even if limited or monitored, does beat the alternative of having no access at all.

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Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to MyLawQuestions, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By Gracechow — On Jul 20, 2015

Well, I think it's possible that an employer monitors the employees' computer activities in their working environment. But sometimes it can really harm the employees' privacy to some extent. The key point is how to monitor in a proper way.

By anon989078 — On Feb 18, 2015

Yes, employers can monitor their employee internet activity. Nowadays, it is a common technique of the employers and makes good business sense. But they should not interact with your personal accounts such as email.

By anon938108 — On Mar 08, 2014

Yes, we can monitor internet activity. I used to be the IT Manager of two UK companies and we regularly checked the internet usage of everyone to ensure people weren't wasting time or looking at anything illegal, which could bring the company into disrepute and then everyone's job would suffer. It's common sense and good management.

People can do whatever they like at home but on the employer's time, people should focus on what they get paid for, not shopping, chatting or wasting time on the internet while everyone else is working. That is unfair to everyone else and why should the time waster get paid for doing what they shouldn't?

By adele7486 — On Feb 15, 2014

Yes, employers can easily monitor their employees’ computer activities at work with employee monitoring tools. In the market, there are many computers monitoring software available like Net Orbit and SniperSpy. Employers have a legal right to monitor every employee's PC activities according to the terms and condition of the company.

With the help of these kinds of software, employers easily boost the productivity of the employees and take some corrective action if employees not performing well or else wasting their work time on personal work.

By barryherne — On Feb 12, 2014

Of course any employer can easily monitor your Internet activity in the office and they use various tools, even the usual network monitoring tools like Anturis. They can even monitor your PC and Internet activity at home.

By anon352282 — On Oct 21, 2013

Our company uses software that runs automatically on every endpoint. It's extremely important to keep track of employees' access to sensitive company data and how they use it. The solution also automatically keeps track of which of our IT admins access the recorded data. It keeps the "watchers" honest too. It will also show what applications are being used on each machine. So, if an employee installs a free spy app on a machine, the software will show when it's used and by who. Pretty cool.

By anon345639 — On Aug 21, 2013

I think having computer monitoring software is just a must, as the data costs a lot and there are too many tools to get the information wanted. There are many nice tools to monitor the network, like Anturis, which is able to examine the whole IT infrastructure of the company.

By anon344004 — On Aug 04, 2013

There is a weight call Track4win, which has the ability to monitor employees' daily activities. You just need to run both the server and the computer you wish to monitor and all monitor results will display. Even though you are out of the office, you can still track what the employees are doing. Using this tool, you can better understand who is the most diligent employee in your company.

By anon342636 — On Jul 22, 2013

O.K. No pushback at all on companies monitoring employee emails. As a manager, I actually agree with this policy under certain conditions. Recently, another manager opened one of his direct report's email accounts by either using the employee's password or by sitting at the employee's desk while his email account was open, reviewed several emails and then deleted all the emails in his account, including emails the employee had filed as reference material or as proof that he had accomplished certain tasks. The manager did this without gaining oversight from his boss or HR and without using monitoring tools.

My problem is by being in the employee's email account *as the employee,* the manager committed an ethical violation and by deleting all the employee's emails, even those filed in folders as proof of performance, the manager committed an even greater ethical violation. There are thousands of articles that say "yes your boss can read your email," but that is not my point or question. Can your boss log in as you and then arbitrarily delete your files? and do all of this without oversight, HR or even a reason?

By anon332021 — On Apr 26, 2013

And what about recording keystrokes? Can anybody advise a good keylogger for monitoring my mac?

By anon269297 — On May 17, 2012

What will be next? Invasion of employees' bedrooms?

By anon200960 — On Jul 28, 2011

Using a company computer to check your personal emails or FB account or whatever can be the same as using it in the privacy of your own home. If you don't sign out of a web-based email service like Hotmail, for example, someone else with access to the company computer can backtrack your history and see all of your private emails without your password.

An employee cannot assume a right to privacy when using company-owned equipment. While it might be considered extremely rude for an employer to quote from an employee's private email correspondance, it generally falls on the employee to either take more steps to secure their password-protected accounts or wait until he or she leaves work to check anything personal.

Anything created or received on a company's computer network can be construed as company property, so the owners of that network do have some rights to access. They shouldn't use private information to humiliate an employee or deny them a performance-based promotion, but they can use it to verify absences or investigate possible employee misconduct, such as operating a separate business on company time or sharing confidential information.

By anon171293 — On Apr 29, 2011

My employer has not only accessed my private emails that I opened at work, but have also referred to, in discussions with me, to my other private emails from the same personal email account, that I did not open from my work computer.

How is this possible? How can they access my personal email account? When I asked them whether they had my password, they said no.

By rinoa — On Nov 30, 2010

Time Doctor uses a better approach to monitor employee internet usage at work.

By jeancastle00 — On Oct 20, 2010

As an employer of many employees and owning my own private business for many years, I can tell you, but the reason I want to monitor my employees Internet use is simply for productivity of my workforce. For no other reason do I want to look at the private doings of my employees and in fact I am very uninterested in what they are planning to do on a Friday night coming up this weekend.

Things I would like to know however, is if they call in sick and decide to use Facebook to update their status and let the world know that they called in sick simply to go see a movie with their best friend. This type of misuse and absolute disrespect for an employer and employee relationship is the exact kind of thing that I want to monitor their Internet use for.

While this may seem harsh I do think that the use of PC spy software is essential in my employment workplace to ensure the absolute efficiency is being achieved and that I as an employee or not being ripped off by my employees.

By GraniteChief — On Oct 20, 2010

Internet spy software in the industry that surrounds it is a very scary concept period I do understand the need for employers to monitor their employees went use, but I do think there are fine lines that can be crossed. For instance, if a workplace actually allows for the private use of Internet during lunch times and break periods, then perhaps that would be an inappropriate time for an employer to be monitoring their employees Internet use.

It may be difficult for a company to restrain itself from eavesdropping into these virtual private sessions that an employee might be happy. After all, employers might like to know if an employee's wife is pregnant and they might be taking some leave time soon. What is to stop an employer from looking at the private e-mails of this employee and determining if an instance like this will be happening anytime soon.

By summertime — On Oct 20, 2010

The ability to monitor computer activity has become much easier and therefore the rate that employers are altering their employees Internet use has drastically increased. While this may seem disturbing to some others without anything to hide about what their activities are online have no problem the fact that their boss looking over their shoulder, virtually.

And honestly, what is the threat? if you aren't doing anything wrong and why would you be threatened to have your boss possibly look at your Internet activity. I don't do anything wrong, and therefore I am not threatened

While employee Web monitoring seems to be increasing I don't have an issue with it nor do I have an issue with other types of video security cameras being installed in public places. these types of cameras are simply a active life and we should just get used to employee surveillance in our everyday work world.

By fitness234 — On Oct 20, 2010

Whether or not the employer has the ability to monitor employees Internet activity, the notion is still a very very invasive and disturbing trend that is happening all across corporate America and the rest of the world. Everyday we lose more and more rights to our privacy but no one seems to pay attention as more and more traffic cameras as well as security cameras are placed into view. We are photographed and filmed hundreds of times a day without our knowledge.

The scary part is it is never obvious where these monitoring rooms are. Where did the video streams of people walking down the sidewalk windup. Who is it that's looking for who? These questions never seem to be answered and are extremely invasive way that our rights are being threatened.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to MyLawQuestions, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide...
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