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Computers nowadays are being ubiquitous. Almost everyone uses it whenever and wherever they are. And because humans are social beings, they devised ways of connecting with other people through this ubiquitous equipment. This has become the birth of the internet.
These computers are used in a variety of ways, in businesses, at home, while traveling, at school, and in other places. The internet connection has already become a very powerful tool for business institutions. With it, the internet connection helped the organization know their employees more, helping them assess the working efficiency of each of the employees. The internet is a group of so-called protocols which make it capable of doing different functions like information access using the World Wide Web, relay messages like e-mails, and/or file transfers and transactions (Clarke, 1999).
Thus, through the internet, cyberspace has been one of the most rapidly growing technology and medium of communication through computer technologies. It is commonly used by students for their researches, and businessmen likewise. Online processing of data makes it easier, faster, and more convenient to use among people in terms of communicating with others and relating with them.
Considering those in business fields, most organizations or corporations consider using this computer technology. Because it is cost-efficient in different ways such as posting new ads or new job offers via the internet and other different purposes like keeping track of their workers.
Privacy in workplaces is important because it helps improve a good atmosphere among co-workers and it also helps build a better business sense. Though privacy can be positive in some sense, some still see it as a means of covering up or hiding what should be exposed for inspections or scrutiny (Posner, 1978). Therefore, every individual should have his or her private space. In this way, the person could be free and able to do things at his own pace and comfort.
But on the contrary, organizations tend to use surveillance among employees in their workplace. From this, the concept of ethics comes up. The idea of ethics in any field is formed because of one basic question, “Would you want the things you do to others to be also done to you?”. This is the question that every ethical framework is expected to answer.
Regarding the main question, “Is it ethical that employers monitor their employees, more specifically, their e-mails?” it should also be asked if they should be doing this in the first place.
In the viewpoint of the employers, monitoring their employee’s email activities would be a kind of protection; not only to their company’s security but also preventing any virtual attacks on their system as well (Introna, 2000). It could also be seen as keeping a log about what information comes in and what goes out of the company system. The action could prevent dishonest employees from sharing company information with other people. This could also be an act to prevent the system’s IP address from being spread on the net.
But the said action could also entail that the employers would be invading their personnels’ personal space, as well as their privacy while working. This would mean that they would be virtually manipulating the working efficiency of the employees, whether positively or negatively.
It is more possible that there would also arise some problems about their employees’ performance because there are people whose work efficiency increases when they are monitored, but there are also people that cannot function well whenever they know that someone is watching their actions. And if this is the case, the “preventive” act of the employers could endanger the company’s production.
On the other side of the coin, employees also have a say about the issue, because they are the ones that do the production. Their efficiency depends on many factors, and one of these is the company’s ability to provide them a healthy working environment. They need appropriate working stations, as well as working equipment. They are also people who need privacy while working.
Employees have the right to privacy too. In this way, the employer should also respect his or her employee. To be able to keep harmony and balance among employer-employee relationships, they could consider some rules in order to establish as well as maintain balance in their workplace. These rules could involve, (1) employers telling his or her employees why he needs information about them, (2) informed consent for the employees part when his or her personal information would be used, (3) employers are only to collect necessary personal information and to do it fairly and by lawful means, (4) the employee’s personal information should be updated, complete and accurate, and, (5) employees should be able to access their data and be able to change or update it (Canada, 2004).
Before employers can monitor or even access information about their employees, they should first tell the employee why the information is needed (Canada, 2004). When an employer wants to get information about an employee, like the person’s online information such as the username, email logs and password, and personal information like credit card number, birthday, etc. he/she must first ask for permission before doing so.
Also, they are expected not to use the said information for any other purposes except for the one mentioned in the letter of permission. Using this information may endanger an employee’s identity, so employers are also expected to keep the information as classified as possible. Employers can only access their employees’ email logs and emails, if and only if their employees give them access to them.
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Employers, especially those that own the organization, are in a sense, an owner of an employee’s work because it is what they are paying them for. But regarding the nature of the labor itself, only the employee owns everything that he/she does. Because of this, only the employee has the right to choose which information can be seen accessed by the employer, and which of those could not be.
Because organizations should be bound by the Law, they should also use legal ways of acquiring information from their employees. They should have dialogs between and among them before getting the information.
The issue about employers monitoring their employees while they work would not only be an issue of privacy in the workplace but also in a sense, an issue of violation of the intellectual property rights of the employee. Everyone has his / her own way of doing and accomplishing things. When workers are closely monitored by their authorities, their own way of working is in danger of being copied and potentially owned by the organization, taken that the worker has an exceptional, highly efficient, and unique way of working.
But taking the instance from another point of view, it would be beneficial not only to the company but also to other workers. This is because it would be one way of keeping the business alive, which in turn keeps the workers in their jobs, which means they would still be financially stable.
Using a utilitarian ethical framework, it would be better if employers would not monitor their workers, because it would not only save them money and efforts but also would keep the morale of the workers and the public high towards the company. When authorities monitor its workers’ moves, it would spell disaster to the company because the consumers would lose faith in it because they may assume that the company is experiencing some problems with its production. it may also be assumed that the quality of their products is relatively low, which could cause lesser sales, which would ultimately cause bankruptcy.
Employers should trust their employees because they are the life of the company. When they lose morale, the company would also suffer.
- Privacy in the Workplace (2004). Fact Sheet. Office of the privacy commissioner of Canada.
- Clarke, R. (1999). Ethics and the Internet: The Cyberspace Behaviour of People, Communities and Organisations.
- Introna, L. (2000). Workplace: Surveillance, Privacy and Distributive Justice. Computers and Society. 30, 4, pp. 33-39.
- Posner, R. (1978). The Right to Privacy. Georgia Law Review. 12:283-422.