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Employee Monitoring

Addressing the Ethical Dilemma Surrounding Employee Monitoring: 8 Best Practices


As many organizations have transitioned to hybrid and remote work models, employee monitoring is rapidly gaining momentum. While organizations may have the right to monitor employee activity to ensure productivity, security, and compliance, they must do so ethically and responsibly.

Taking appropriate measures to protect collected data is essential when fostering a culture of trust, transparency, and mutual respect between employees and management. In this article, we review the major ethical concerns around employee monitoring and provide eight best practices to address them.

Why monitor employee activity?

Employee monitoring is legal in many countries. While there is no federal law prohibiting workplace monitoring on company devices in the US, some states have legislation requiring organizations to ensure a reasonable level of employee privacy and/or forbidding the monitoring of employees on non-company devices. 

Your organization may benefit from employee monitoring in several ways:

Reasons why organizations monitor their employees

Navigating security issues — Systematic employee monitoring can help you prevent and detect security issues promptly. For instance, employee monitoring software can help security officers notice unauthorized access attempts, violations of the organization’s security policies, and visits to risky websites. 

Improving employee productivity — Employee monitoring helps you detect employee productivity issues and better understand their underlying causes. Thus, you can provide targeted feedback and train employees to address those specific issues which will increase productivity.

Enhancing resource management — Employee monitoring can help you identify inefficiencies in work processes. You can allocate resources more effectively by closely observing and analyzing employee work activity.

Boosting employee accountability — When employees know they’re being monitored, they’re less likely to act inappropriately, i.e., violate established policies, use unauthorized software, or slack off. Thus, employee monitoring helps you hold employees accountable for their actions.

Ensuring IT compliance — Employee monitoring helps you ensure that employees do not engage in any activities that could lead to legal consequences for the company. For example, monitoring user activity lets you check to see if employees handle sensitive information according to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) or Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

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Ethical concerns and the negative consequences of employee monitoring

Is employee monitoring ethical?

While employee monitoring can serve legitimate purposes, there are strict boundaries that employers must take care never to cross if they are to maintain good relationships with their employees. 

The following are the most pressing employee monitoring ethical issues:

ethical implications of employee monitoring

Invasion of privacy

Employee monitoring can become intrusive when company oversight extends into employees’ personal lives. This happens when the boundary between work and private life isn’t well-defined. As a result, your organization may end up collecting excessive data, which violates employee privacy.

Collected data misuse

Information officers in your organization may handle the data collected during monitoring inappropriately and not take proper security measures. Hence, there’s a risk of unauthorized access and exposure of employees’ sensitive data. What’s more, the information officers themselves may misuse the data for personal gain by harassing or discriminating against employees.

Deterioration of employee state of well-being

Constant and rigorous monitoring can make work uncomfortable for employees. It can create a sense of pressure and scrutiny among employees, leading to heightened levels of stress and anxiety. The knowledge that someone is watching their actions can contribute to feelings of distrust, unease, self-consciousness, and fear of judgment by the management. Employees may also lose confidence and motivation to perform well at work.

Trust issues

When employees don’t understand the scope of your organization’s monitoring and the nature of the information you’re gathering, they may feel like you’re spying on them. In the long term, this can lead to a toxic work environment, a decline in loyalty and commitment, and poor employee retention within the organization.

Discrimination and bias

Without carefully considered monitoring policies, information officers responsible for employee monitoring can engage in unfair or prejudiced practices. Thus, there is a chance of unintentional discrimination against specific employees or groups in your workforce.

Selectively monitoring employees based on age, gender, race, or nationality results in the reinforcement of stereotypes. It leads to a hostile work environment and has a negative impact on diversity and inclusion in your organization.

Are there any negative consequences to violating the ethics of employee monitoring?

Besides damaging your relationship with your workforce and decreasing productivity, excessive and unethical employee monitoring can cause legal complications. While organizations often use employee monitoring to comply with data protection laws and regulations, the very process of monitoring raises concerns regarding employee privacy and data security. Due to unreasonable collection and overexposure of employees’ personal data, your organization may face lawsuits and fines.

For instance, an Amazon warehouse manager in France was fined €32 million ($34.7 million) for excessive employee monitoring. The French Data Protection Authority (CNIL) ruled that the monitoring process, aimed at “measuring work interruptions with such accuracy” that employees might be required “to justify every break or interruption”, was excessively intrusive. CNIL concluded that Amazon violated the GDPR several times, in particular the parts of the regulation regarding data minimization and lawful processing.

In the next section, you’ll find eight effective practices to help you prevent legal and ethical issues of employee monitoring.

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8 best practices for ethical employee monitoring

Balancing effective employee monitoring with respect for employee privacy and dignity can be challenging. Adopting the following best practices can help your organization ensure transparency and fairness in the employee monitoring process and prioritize employee well-being.

best practices for ethical employee monitoring

1. Create a detailed monitoring policy

An employee monitoring policy outlines the rules and guidelines for workplace monitoring within your organization. In this policy, you should define the procedures and tools you use for monitoring employees, taking ethical concerns into consideration.

Make sure to describe the following points in your employee monitoring policy:

  • Who is monitored?
  • What activities and devices are monitored?
  • Who is authorized to perform the monitoring?
  • How will staff be informed about monitoring?
  • How will the information gathered during monitoring be used?
  • What is the purpose of monitoring?
  • How do you ensure the privacy of monitored employees?
  • How is the data collected during monitoring secured and stored, and for how long?

The employee monitoring policy will serve as the foundation for implementing proper employee monitoring ethics, providing a structured approach, and promoting compliance with legal requirements.

2. Ensure transparency in workplace monitoring

Monitoring employees in the shadows is not an option if you want to avoid legal repercussions. Communicate your intentions to implement employee monitoring to your staff. Your employees may not like the idea at first, so you need to provide extensive justification of why you need to monitor their activity and emphasize how it will benefit the business.

Make sure to let your employees know:

  • The purpose of monitoring (preventing security breaches, boosting productivity, etc.)
  • In what situations they will be monitored, and why (during work hours, while working with sensitive data, etc.)
  • What you’ll be looking for during monitoring (security violations, deviations from established work protocols, etc.)
  • What the potential outcomes might be (for instance, employees may get blocked for suspicious activity)

Ideally, you want to get your employees’ written consent to being monitored within your organization’s network.

3. Limit the scope of monitoring

Make sure that you only monitor what’s essential for achieving your purpose, be it enhancing security, increasing employee productivity, or boosting process efficiency. Ensure clear boundaries between employees’ professional and personal lives. For this, you might need to limit monitoring to specific work-related resources or make it active only during work hours.

Avoid collecting employees’ personal data whenever possible. The more personal data you collect, the stronger security measures you need to protect it.

4. Anonymize personal data

In cases when you still need to collect employees’ personal data, use data anonymization. Data anonymization is a process of masking sensitive personal information so that it becomes unidentifiable, eliminating any associations with specific individuals.

By anonymizing employees’ personally identifiable information, you ensure that even if the data collected during the monitoring process ends up in the wrong hands, it is still protected against compromise.

Ensuring User Privacy with Ekran System

5. Minimize data exposure

Ensure that the data collected during employee monitoring isn’t easily available across your organization. Grant access to the data gathered from monitoring solely to the staff that needs to analyze it. Consider implementing strong access control measures and multi-factor authentication to prevent unauthorized access to collected data.

When anonymizing the personal data of employees in the monitoring results, make sure that employees with access to the data cannot deanonymize it without approval.

6. Prevent discriminatory practices

Monitoring only specific employees or teams may negatively influence the working atmosphere in your organization. Monitored employees can feel that you’re suspicious of them and hold a grudge against you or other employees who aren’t monitored. Hence, you must make sure that security officers responsible for employee monitoring do not single out any one person or group.

Although you may be looking to keep an eye on specific employees, it’s best to monitor broadly. First of all, by monitoring all employees, you can collect more information and gather more precise insights into employee activity. Secondly, selective monitoring can lead to the development of discriminatory practices elsewhere in your organization.

7. Reduce human intervention with the help of AI

Deploying AI-powered technology, such as user and entity behavior analytics (UEBA), can help you eliminate the human factor during the monitoring process. UEBA [PDF] is a technology that analyzes user activity to establish a user behavior baseline. UEBA solution then detects anomalies in user activity and informs security officers about them. 

UEBA allows you to automate suspicious behavior detection, adding an extra degree of efficiency and objectivity to your monitoring process.

8. Deploy a dedicated software solution

Many solutions on the market provide features to monitor various aspects of employee activity, including internet and application usage, communications, and work hours. However, it’s better to choose a user activity monitoring solution that aligns with ethical employee monitoring principles. 

Choose a solution that allows you to tailor the monitoring process to your specific needs. By clearly defining monitoring parameters and objectives, you can foster a culture of trust and collaboration, minimizing the perception of intrusive tracking.

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Test how Ekran System can help you monitor employee activity ethically and effectively.

Ethical employee monitoring with Ekran System

Ekran System is a full-cycle insider risk management platform that helps you perform comprehensive employee monitoring. It enables you to record employees’ on-screen activity in a screen capture format along with related metadata, such as names of running applications, titles of open windows, visited websites, keystrokes, executed commands and scripts, and connected USB devices.

Ekran System monitors user activity while respecting your employees’ right to privacy and protects personal information from compromise thanks to the following capabilities:

Addressing employee monitoring ethical issues with Ekran System
  1. Monitoring alerts. Display notifications to users to let them know they’re being monitored.
  2. Collected data anonymization. Remove identity indicators from data during monitoring to prevent employee personal data compromise. Preserve the possibility of re-identification when needed for investigating purposes through a secure approval request procedure.
  3. Monitoring filters. Apply filtering parameters to exclude specific applications, keystrokes, IP addresses, and out-of-work hours from monitoring and limit the amount of data collected. 
  4. Integration with solutions for secure remote work. Monitor only work-related activities on employee-owned or unmanaged devices, while keeping the use of personal applications private.
  5. Password masking. Mask passwords in the monitoring results during keystroke monitoring
  6. Rule-based user activity alerts. Automate threat detection with a rule-based alert system to minimize the necessity of disclosing data collected during monitoring to security officers.
  7. Administrative permission management. Manage administrative permissions to the monitoring configurations and limit access to the monitoring results.
  8. Collected data encryption. Encrypt data you collect during monitoring with AES encryption to enhance its protection.

The primary objective of Ekran System is to help organizations detect, deter, and disrupt insider threats. That’s why, in addition to employee monitoring, Ekran System offers privileged access management (PAM), two-factor authentication (2FA), USB device monitoring, user activity auditing and reporting, and other cybersecurity capabilities.

OTP Bank Analyzing User Behavior with Ekran System


The legalities of observing and tracking workplace behavior aren’t all you should be worried about when implementing a system of employee monitoring. Addressing the ethical implications of employee monitoring is equally important. By following the best practices for ethical employee monitoring we’ve discussed in this article, you can strike a balance between insightful employee monitoring and ethics within your company culture and the organization as a whole. 

A dedicated employee monitoring solution like Ekran System can help you establish an appropriate level of monitoring with all ethical considerations in mind.

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