Career Advice Jan 24 2012

Watch What You Tweet, Your Employer May Be Listening

By kelly eggers

It's probably a safe bet that most of us have used our work phones or computers for non-work-related business. If you knew your employer tracked your every electronic move, would you still want to work there?

In FINS' informal Sign or Decline survey, of 696 respondents, 39% said they'd turn down their dream job if management monitored their time in front of the computer.

There's a reason why companies are looking over your shoulder. A relatively large number of employees don't respect the confidential information of their employers. Out of employees surveyed at 596 companies in 2009, 14% said they had emailed confidential or proprietary information to third parties, according to the American Management Association and ePolicy Institute. Another 14% said they have passed company-eyes-only emails to outsiders.

Twenty-six percent of firms have fired employees for violating email policies, and another 26% terminated employees for other Internet policy violations. Twenty-four percent of the companies surveyed have had emails subpoenaed by a court or regulatory authority, and 9% have gone to court to battle lawsuits triggered specifically by employee emails.

Courts and regulators have upheld the right of employers to snoop on their employees' Internet communications. "The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) makes it clear that employees have no reasonable expectation of privacy when using a company's computer system," said Nancy Flynn, executive director of the ePolicy Institute and author of "The Social Media Handbook." "Even if your company says they don't monitor you, you should assume that you're being monitored."

Even if your company says they don't, you should assume you're being monitored

Only two states, Connecticut and Delaware, require employers to disclose whether they're monitoring your computer activity. Most do anyway.

And they're monitoring more. Companies now have policies on everything from instant messages to texts sent from your work BlackBerry. According to the AMA and ePolicy survey, 27% of companies have rules on the content you may post on your personal blog at home, up from 7% in 2006.

"Employers have the legal right to monitor what goes on on the public Web," said Flynn. "If you are using public social networks, all of that content is being published on the public web."

Whether your employer can demand access to your personal social network -- that is, demand you make them a Facebook friend -- is currently a legal debate. In Maryland, for example, a Department of Corrections employee was required to provide his Facebook account credentials in order to be re-certified for his position -- a case that the American Civil Liberties Union has challenged.

Even when posting on their own time, on their own devices, the list of employees fired for disparaging or revealing Facebook posts and Tweets continues to grow.

Until there's a hard line on privacy, however, there's one foolproof way to ensure you're not next: Don't put anything in writing that you wouldn't want your boss, a lawyer, a judge, a future employer or a colleague to see.

What Would You Do?

Answer the question and see how you match up with the rest of the FINS community.

You've just been offered your dream job, but... your management monitors your time in front of your computer.


Write to Kelly Eggers

Sign or Decline is a series of questions on that ask what you would do for your dream job. Since its launch late last year, over 100,000 answers have been received and compiled in our database. Participate in Sign or Decline here.

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