The Latest on Workplace Monitoring and Surveillance

Published: Apr 08, 2019
Modified: Mar 26, 2020 AMA Staff

From e-mail monitoring and Website blocking to phone tapping and GPS tracking, employers increasingly combine technology with policy to manage productivity and minimize litigation, security, and other risks. More than one fourth of employers have fired workers for misusing e-mail and nearly one third have fired employees for misusing the Internet, according to the “2007 Electronic Monitoring & Surveillance Survey” from American Management Association (AMA) and The ePolicy Institute.

Survey Findings on Workplace Monitoring Findings (by category):

E-Mail and Internet-Related Terminations

The 28% of employers who have fired workers for e-mail misuse cite the following reasons:
—Violation of any company policy (64%)
—Inappropriate or offensive language (62%)
—Excessive personal use (26%)
—Breach of confidentiality rules (22%)
—Other (12%).

The 30% of bosses who have fired workers for Internet misuse cite the following reasons:
—Viewing, downloading, or uploading inappropriate/offensive content (84%)
—Violation of any company policy (48%)
—Excessive personal use (34%)
—Other (9%)

Internet, E-Mail, Blogs and Social Networking

Employers are primarily concerned about inappropriate Web surfing.
—66% monitor Internet connections
—65% use software to block connections to inappropriate Websites—a 27% increase since 2001 when AMA/ePolicy Institute first surveyed electronic monitoring and surveillance policies and procedures.

Employers who block access to the Web are concerned about employees visiting:

—Adult sites with sexual, romantic, or pornographic content (96%)
—Game sites (61%)
—Social networking sites (50%)
—Entertainment sites (40%)
—Shopping/auction sites (27%)
—Sports sites (21%)
—External blogs (18%)

Computer monitoring takes many forms:

—45% of employers tracking content, keystrokes, and time spent at the keyboard
—43% store and review computer files
—12% monitor the blogosphere to see what is being written about the company
—10% monitor social networking sites

Of the 43% of companies that monitor e-mail, 73% use technology tools to automatically monitor e-mail and 40% assign an individual to manually read and review e-mail.

“Concern over litigation and the role electronic evidence plays in lawsuits and regulatory investigations has spurred more employers to monitor online activity. Data security and employee productivity concerns also motivate employers to monitor Web and e-mail use and content,” said Nancy Flynn, executive director of The ePolicy Institute and author of The ePolicy Handbook, 2nd Edition (AMACOM, 2008), E-Mail Rules (AMACOM 2003), Instant Messaging Rules (AMACOM 2004), Blog Rules (AMACOM 2006), and other books related to workplace computer use.

“Workers’ e-mails and other electronically stored information create written business records that are the electronic equivalent of DNA evidence,” said Flynn, noting that 24% of employers have had e-mail subpoenaed by courts and regulators and another 15% have battled workplace lawsuits triggered by employee e-mail, according to 2006 AMA/ ePolicy research. “To help control the risk of litigation, security breaches and other electronic disasters, employers should take advantage of monitoring and blocking technology to battle people problems—including the accidental and intentional misuse of computer systems and other electronic resources,” Flynn said.

While only two states, Delaware and Connecticut, require employers to notify employees of monitoring, the majority are doing a good job of alerting employees when they are being watched. Fully 83% inform workers that the company is monitoring content, keystrokes and time spent at the keyboard; 84% let employees know the company reviews computer activity; and 71% alert employees to e-mail monitoring. But are employers doing enough to educate employees on their specific policies?

“Most employees receive policies regarding use of office business tools and privacy issues on the first day of employment, but too often they don’t read them. Employers need to do more than hand over a written policy,” says Manny Avramidis, CEO for AMA. “They should educate employees on company expectations and offer training on an annual basis.”

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How Companies Monitor Employees Use of Telephone and Voicemail

Six percent of employers have fired employees for misuse or private use of office phones. Fully 45% monitor time spent and numbers called, and another 16% record phone conversations. An additional 9% monitor employees’ voicemail messages. Most employers notify employees of phone (84%) and voicemail (73%) monitoring.

Electronic Employee Monitoring and Video Surveillance

Almost half (48%) of the companies surveyed use video monitoring to counter theft, violence and sabotage. Only 7% use video surveillance to track employees’ on-the-job performance. Most employers notify employees of anti-theft video surveillance (78%) and performance-related video monitoring (89%).

Global Satellite Positioning and Emerging Surveillance Technology

Employers who use Assisted Global Positioning or Global Positioning Systems satellite technology are in the minority:
—Only 8% use GPS to track company vehicles
—3% use GPS to monitor cell phones
—Fewer than 1% use GPS to monitor employee ID/Smartcards

The majority (52%) of companies employ Smartcard technology to control physical security and access to buildings and data centers. Trailing far behind is the use of technology that enables fingerprint scans (2%), facial recognition (0.4%) and iris scans (0.4%).

About the Survey
The “2007 Electronic Monitoring & Surveillance Survey” is cosponsored by American Management Association ( and The ePolicy Institute ( Of the 304 U.S. companies that participated: 27% represent companies employing 100 or less workers, 101–500 employees (27%), 501–1,000 (12%), 1,001–2,500 (12%), 2,501–5,000 (10%) and 5,001 or more (12%).

For more information about the “2007 Electronic Monitoring & Surveillance Survey,” visit

About The Author(s)

American Management Association is a world leader in professional development, advancing the skills of individuals to drive business success. AMA’s approach to improving performance combines experiential learning—“learning through doing”—with opportunities for ongoing professional growth at every step of one’s career journey. AMA supports the goals of individuals and organizations through a complete range of products and services, including seminars, Webcasts and podcasts, conferences, corporate and government solutions, business books and research.