Cyber Monday: Your boss is watching you shop and is probably OK with it

Randy Wolf, regional vice president of Robert Half in Chicago, said companies are realizing that giving employees flexibility to do their holiday shopping online makes them more productive and contributes to higher morale.

Employers are finding that employees are not abusing the usage and are more productive because they are able to accomplish something online versus running out and spending an hour or two outside of the office, Wolf said. A fifth of employees say shopping online makes them more productive because they dont have to leave the office.

Even among the 24 percent of employees who said they have been caught shopping online at the office, only 15 percent said they were reprimanded. Thirty-one percent said it led to them exchanging shopping tips with their boss.

But another survey on the topic finds that companies may be cracking down.

Twelve percent of employers surveyed by CareerBuilder said they have fired someone for online holiday shopping while at work, up from 8 percent who said so last year. More than a third say that they care about time employees spend online on nonwork activities even if their job performance is not affected.

Thirty-six percent said they monitor the sites their employees visit, up 4 percentage points from last year, and 56 percent said they block employees from accessing certain websites at work, up 3 percentage points from last year, according to the CareerBuilder survey, which polled 2,326 hiring and human resources managers and 3,321 employees.

That policing may prove futile as more people use mobile devices to shop, however. The survey found that 42 percent of workers are doing holiday shopping on their phones or tablets, up sharply from 27 percent last year.

About half of US employees use time at work to shop online, the survey found. People who work in sales, financial services and information technology are the most likely to do so.

Concerns about cybersecurity may cause some employers to tighten their policies. The Robert Half survey, while finding that employers have become more lenient with online shopping at work since 2012, saw an uptick in companies monitoring employees Internet use over last year, which Wolf attributes to cybersecurity concerns.

Employment attorney Joe Yastrow said most company handbooks he is familiar with state that employers reserve the right to monitor their employees Internet usage on company equipment and take action if it becomes excessive.

Most employers have better things to do than spy on their employees, said Yastrow, a partner at Laner Muchin, but the monitoring can be a useful tool to find out what the problem is if an employee is not getting his or her work done.

Other companies have a live-and-let-shop ethos.

Chicago-based software maker Centro said people can do what they wish with their free time during the workday as long as they do their jobs.

Weve always had the core philosophy that everyones an adult and they should act accordingly, and were able to trust them to get their work done, said Elles Skony, talent and development senior business partner at Centro.

aelejalderuiz@tribpub.com

Twitter @alexiaer

Neal Custer: What to know if you want to use spyware on employees

With the presence of computers and smartphones reaching an all-time high in our society, it has never been easier to discreetly monitor a person’s activities without their knowledge. The question has evolved from “Is it possible to compromise a phone or computer with spyware?” to “Which brand of spyware do I feel like using today?”

The manufacturers of these tools are often quite heavy-handed about the descriptions of their products. Three of the most popular spy apps are MSpy, Mobispy and Spyera. Notice a trend?

Even more interesting is the following disclaimer, found at the bottom of MSpy’s website: “INTENDED FOR LEGAL USES ONLY.”

A savvy reader might be asking how this invasive level of monitoring — GPS positioning, keylogging, text-message interception, picture interception and so forth — can possibly be legal in any context. The answer, as with many of these situations involving rapidly evolving technology and privacy rights, is “it depends.”

I am not an attorney, so none of the following should be considered as legal advice or guidance. I am merely an expert witness who has worked on innumerable digital forensic cases involving computer and smartphone spyware.

The generally accepted legal uses for installing hidden spyware on a phone are twofold: monitoring minor children you have legal guardianship of and monitoring employees who are using company-owned phones.

The latter is likely the more interesting of the two to business owners, and admittedly could offer a lot of interesting data about employees.

To quote John Wooden, “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” Almost all businesses occasionally face the problems of goldbrickers — employees who maintain the appearance of working but secretly spend more time slacking off than they would like to admit to their bosses, like gold bricks that look valuable from a distance but are actually just painted mud.

That most employees are chained to a desk is bad enough, but throwing the global smartphone addiction into the mix means that most employees are connected to the Internet throughout their business days. Maybe they slip away for a few minutes at a time to watch a funny cat video. Maybe they actually spend five hours a day on Facebook. Even worse, maybe they’re stealing important company files by embedding them inside funny photos and forwarding them to all their “friends.”

Each of these situations happens every day in the workplace. To the outside observer, an employee is either typing away behind a monitor or hunched over a smartphone like a caveman over a flame. Their actual actions are rarely apparent, and this can make spyware appealing to business owners.

An important legal consideration is the concept of “reasonable expectation of privacy.” Would employees have any reason to believe they are being monitored on their computers or their phones?

In almost all cases involving legal use of spyware, businesses have been required to inform their employees that they cannot expect privacy while using company devices. This should be explicitly spelled out in employment contracts: “All digital device use may be monitored at any time and privacy should not be expected.” Users also need a regular reminder that privacy should not be assumed. This could be a popup, with the same language as the contract, that appears whenever they turn on their computers.

While I neither condone nor condemn the practice, I recognize that various businesses are employing spyware. So the least I can do is offer a little advice: Always make sure you have an attorney involved before you start using spyware. Failing to do so could quickly land a business owner in prison.

Monitoring employees with technology

As technology evolves, employers are given more ways to access information about employees, as well as new methods for monitoring their activity. From smartphones to social media, keeping tabs on a workforce can be done immediately, conveniently and accurately. The temptation is understandable.

However, just because this information is available does not mean it is appropriate to use or review. In trying to balance the privacy rights of an employee with the business interests of an employer, here are a few key issues to keep an eye on.

Social media

The use of social media has become pervasive in the workplace, and employers must address the use of sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. At this point, creating a social media policy still requires navigating through gray areas. There are, however, some definitive guidelines both nationally and locally to help in crafting a reasonable policy.

At the federal level, the National Labor Relations Act protects the rights of employees to act together in addressing issues such as work conditions. The National Labor Relations Board has found that this policy extends to certain work-related discussions by employees on social media sites.

Since the NLRB began addressing social media cases in 2010, two prevalent points have come to the forefront:

bull;Employees comments on social media are not normally a protected activity if they are simply complaining about work in a general context

bull; An employers social media policy cannot be so broad that it prohibits activity protected by federal labor law, such as discussions among employees about work wages or office conditions.

At the state level, New Hampshire law specifically addresses social media in the employment context. Employers are prohibited from requiring or even requesting that an employee:

bull; Turn over login information for a social media account

bull; Add the employer as a contact

bull; Reduce the privacy settings of an account

In fact, even if an employer inadvertently acquires this information, it may not use it to access an employees account. However, an employer may limit and monitor the use of social media on employer-provided equipment, and can request login information for an account obtained by virtue of the employees employment relationship.

Tracking apps

Employers are increasingly utilizing GPS-enabled technology in order to monitor employees outside the office. While this type of tracking is rather common with vehicles, it is also now being used through employees smartphones, and understandably so.

Tracking apps for phones are easy to install, cheap to maintain, and remarkably accurate. However, if a slew of recent lawsuits is any indication, these apps also pose a potential liability for employers.

While a company may have legitimate reasons for monitoring its workers (eg truck drivers, on-site salespeople), the data collected can often cross over into the employees private life.

Few courts have addressed the issue of tracking apps in the employment context, but generally, companies are only allowed to use such technology on company-owned equipment, and if the employee does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in its use.

Given these parameters, there are a few steps an employer should take before implementing any tracking program:

bull; Ensure that GPS monitoring is justified by a legitimate business interest. Business-related purposes may include the need to monitor employee productivity, a concern for safety, or to track the use of an employers resource like a company car.

bull;Create a GPS tracking policy that sets clear monitoring boundaries. All employees should understand the reasoning behind the companys use of the monitoring, the manner in which it will be conducted, and how the employer will use the data. If disabling the tracking technology will result in discipline, notify employees of the potential consequences in advance. There are even some apps that set these parameters, automatically disabling the GPS function when the employee is off the clock.

Mobile office

While social media and tracking apps offer opportunities where an employer may want to monitor its employees, the use of portable technology by employees away from the workplace and outside scheduled hours creates a situation where an employer must monitor the activity.

If workers are using smartphones or laptops to respond to work-related emails, texts and voicemails outside the office, there is an obligation on the employer to properly record and pay the employee for this time.

To the extent a company allows or expects off-duty mobile work by employees, there should be a policy in place.

Especially for non-exempt workers, the policy will want to address working off-the-clock, unauthorized work, and how to report when such work is performed. Managers and supervisors of these employees must understand how sending communications outside normal work hours may violate the policy. And, if necessary, employers may consider implementing policies like email curfews to safeguard against pressuring non-exempt employees to perform unauthorized work after hours.

Kenton Villano, an associate in the Litigation Practice Group at the law firm of McLane Middleton, can be reached at 603-628-1180 or kenton.villano@mclane.com.

Company’s use of GPS to track employee did not violate collective bargaining …

On November 2, 2015, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) released an advisory letter stating that Shore Point Distribution Co. (Shore Point), an alcoholic beverage distributor in New Jersey, did not violate labor laws by failing to negotiate with its employees union before installing a GPS tracking device on its employees company truck. Beginning in March of this year, Shore Point believed that an employee was stealing time while on his work routes, and after using a GPS tracking device and a private investigator to follow him, fired the employee for his actions. The NLRB said in its letter that the collective bargaining agreement contains rules against stealing time and requirements that company drivers follow federal regulations related to accurate accounting of their time. Additionally, the NLRB said in its letter that because the union permits the companys practice of hiring a private investigator for purpose of monitoring employees suspected of stealing time, and the GPS was only used in conjunction with the private investigators observations, the collective bargaining agreement was not violated. The GPS was only installed on the employees vehicle on the days when the private investigator was following the employee as a backup method in case the private investigator lost visual sight of the employee and his vehicle.

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The gift of time: Is unlimited vacation leave right for your company?

In the all-out battle to recruit and retain the best qualified, most highly motivated and loyal workforce, more organizations are experimenting with taking a radically flexible approach to monitoring employees vacation and personal leaveor even abandoning such tracking entirely.

Among the latest examples:

bull; At tech giant IBM, each of its 335,000 workers earns three or more weeks vacation each year, but the company says it doesnt officially keep track of the time off.

bull; Netflix lets its salaried workers take as much vacation time as they want, saying workers are evaluated on performance, not face time.

In essence, employers are rethinking their traditional time-off policies in an effort to meet employees needs for flexibility, while aiming to boost productivity and retention.

Even more flexible than PTO

Plenty of employers have instituted paid time off (PTO) banks in lieu of separate vacation, sick and personal leave p…(register to read more)

Mission 500 and COPS Monitoring team up to provide school supplies to 700 …

Miami, FL (September 15, 2015) – Mission 500 recently teamed up with COPS Monitoring of Boca Raton, Florida to assemble and donate school supply kits to students at a nearby Title 1 elementary school in Boynton Beach. Thanks to the generosity of both organizations and their donors, and with support from World Vision, a worldwide humanitarian organization, there were enough kits to provide one to every student in the school – more than 700 in all.

“We have a strong company culture that stresses the importance of ‘people helping people,'” said David Smith, Director of Marketing and Communications for COPS Monitoring. “We were particularly grateful to be able to provide support to local children directly, and to be lucky enough to be able to meet them in person as we handed out the kits.”

The kits were assembled by a group of COPS Monitoring employees, including some who came in on their days off to participate. The company also opened their doors to anyone from the neighborhood who wished to join the effort, making the activity a true community-building event.

Each kit was provided in a new colorful backpack, and held a broad assortment of age-appropriate school essentials, including notebooks, scissors, crayons, pens and pencils, and much more. Two additional items added extra value to these families, too. Each kit included a handwritten note of encouragement to the student from one of the volunteers, as well as from COPS Monitoring to alert parents that the company was looking to hire qualified local residents for dispatcher positions in the nearby central station monitoring operation.

“Mission 500 is grateful for the chance to help facilitate this event,” said George Fletcher, Advisory Board Member, Mission 500. “It was clearly a success from all angles – from the generous support of the sponsors, the contributions of the volunteers, and the community involvement – we can feel good about every part of the effort. But most of all, knowing that we are helping give children a chance to do their best, and seeing the looks on their faces – that’s what it’s all about.” 

The Kit Build and distribution of kits was reported on by ABC WPBF News, available at the following link, http://www.wpbf.com/news/students-surprised-with-new-backpacks/34852286. 

For more information on Mission 500, contact George Fletcher at pr@mission500.org, or call 305-321-3193. 

 

Improper employee monitoring could result in lawsuits

In the age of technology, smartphones, GPS units and other monitoring devices make it easy for business owners to keep an eye on team members who are working both in and out of the office. According to the National Workrights Institute, 67.3 percent of US employers use some form of electronic monitoring in the workplace. But is the reward worth the risk? If done incorrectly, your company could find itself in hot water with employees or, worse, in the middle of an Employee Practices Liability (EPL) lawsuit.

Below are two scenarios in which monitoring your employees could cause a legal issue for your company.

Monitoring employees who work remotely

Many companies are allowing team members to trade in the typical office environment for the ability to work from home or from a local business, like a coffee shop. While this trend has its advantages, it adds complexities to a manager’s role. How do you know if an employee is actually working? Companies can monitor employees’ work through simple measures like reviewing their email flow or tracking their work through third-party software installed on their devices.

Where employers get into murky waters is with employee-owned devices. Monitoring employees’ personal devices can be a crucial step for employers to ensure customer data is protected. This is especially important in industries that work with sensitive data like social security numbers or medical records. Such monitoring, however, puts employees’ personal information at risk of accidental exposure.

In 2013, mobile IT firm MobileIron commissioned the Trust Gap Survey, which polled 3,000 employees across the US, UK and Germany. Of the workers surveyed, only three of every 10 said they completely trusted their employers to keep personal information private. If, by monitoring personal devices, an employer discovers something that the individual doesn’t want to share, such as a diagnosis, the fact that they’re pregnant or even that they’re applying to jobs elsewhere, and word gets out, a legal issue could arise.

To avoid this, make sure your company has a clearly defined Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy that spells out what’s being monitored, what’s permissible during work hours and what steps the organization is taking to protect employee information.

Monitoring employees after hours

In some industries, like construction or sales, employers track time and location using a smartphone app where each team member can clock in and out, check in at various locations and provide updates on his or her whereabouts. The GPS software on the phone allows employers to track projects and confirm that the individual was actually where he said he was. Doing so is not illegal. Problems arise when employers monitor these actions during “off-the-clock” hours.

Consider this example.

An employer suspects that a team member is freelancing or consulting for a competitor on the side. To find out if there is any truth to the suspicion, the employer checks where the employee is headed after work, or where she is in the hour or two before she comes into the office, to see if she ever meets with the other organization.

This would be a violation of the employee’s privacy and would likely backfire against you if brought to court since it took place outside of work hours.

Monitoring an employee via GPS tracking — even if the reason seems justified — could put your organization in a legal gray area. To avoid any mishaps, set a strict policy of how and when leaders will use tracking capabilities and software and share it with your team. Also, consider purchasing additional policies, such as EPL insurance, to protect your company if such litigation comes up.

Emerging technology, like drones, will only continue to make it easier to keep an eye on your employees. In doing so, however, you could risk losing their trust, creating a negative work environment and possibly landing yourself in legal trouble. If your company monitors employees, take the necessary steps to ensure you are always operating within legal boundaries. It could save you the time and resources that would arise in the event of an EPL case.

Parker Rains, based in Nashville, is vice president of middle market business insurance firm, Fisher Brown Bottrell Insurance, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Trustmark National Bank, a publicly traded financial services company with over 200 locations and over 3,000 associates in Mississippi, Florida, Tennessee, Alabama and Texas. You can reach Parker at prains@fbbins.com, and visit Fisher Brown Bottrell Insurance online at www.fbbins.com.

Corporate Reputation Management Vs. Employee Privacy

Law360, New York (July 29, 2015, 12:39 PM ET) — Social media has made corporate brand and reputation management more challenging, while at the same time fundamentally altering an employees privacy profile. Information posted by or about an employee can have a deeply negative impact on a companys image, and the rapidity of its spread can be astounding. Companies are responding by more carefully monitoring employees, including employees presence on social media.

The advent of big data allows companies to rapidly analyze large amounts of information and sift out the data relevant to its own employees,…