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Workplace Monitoring’s Legality and Ethics Research Paper

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Updated: Nov 2nd, 2020


It would be the anticipation of any rational employer that their employees work with optimal levels of efficiency. This includes appropriate use of resources, including but not limited to working time and other equipment (Moussa, 2015). It would not be prudent for the employer to just sit and assume that the employees would be compliant. Therefore, the employer would be vigilant and, therefore, monitor the employee while at work (Cox, Goette, & Young, 2005). On the other hand, employees are human beings, who have rights (especially right to privacy and personal space).

Apparently, there are contradicting interests and, therefore, it would be interesting to know whether monitoring of employees at the workplace is acceptable. Moreover, a more pertinent question would be on the legalities and ethical issues associated with workplace monitoring.

This research paper is centered on the legal and ethical issues relating to workplace monitoring. It attempts to answer the question, “Is Workplace Monitoring Legal and Ethical?” Peer-reviewed journals and other relevant sources are used in the literature review. Thereafter, a discussion is made based on the literature review resulting in a conclusion.

Literature Review

Apparently, issues related to legalities and ethics associated with workplace monitoring have attracted the attention of many scholars, business people, pundits, and other pertinent stakeholders. As such, there is a considerably sufficient literature material trying to answer whether it is legal or ethical for an employer to monitor their employee. In addition, some literature material attempt to categorize elements that are agreeable to be monitored and what are not agreeable.

Yerby (2013) confirms that the question of legal and ethical issues related to workplace monitoring elicits diverse and complex responses. The author notes that employers who do not monitor their employees’ workplace activities are likely to suffer financial loses and are potentially liable for any hostile environment created by employees. However, the author is concerned with the lack of common legal frameworks regarding workplace monitoring. Further, Yerby (2013) notes that current legal frameworks do not outlaw workplace monitoring. In fact, employers are legally bound to monitor employee, especially when the employee would create hostile working environment if not monitored.

Regarding ethical issues related to workplace monitoring, Yerby (2013) proposes that employee monitoring is appropriate and, therefore, there are necessities to practice it. However, the author highlights the need for proper employee training on proper resource usage. Moreover, the author proposes that employees should be made aware of possible intrusion and monitoring while at workplaces.

Nord, McCubbins, and Nord (2006) suggest that when employees are not monitored, a firm may suffer loses emanating from non-productivity, and non-work related employees activities. As such, workplace monitoring is necessitated.

Furthermore, Nord, McCubbins, Nord (2006) assert that although legal frameworks may be slower than technological advancement, laws and statues continue to change and develop in the US. As such, it is appropriate for employees and employers to be up to date and compliant with legal requirements regarding workplace monitoring.

In addition, Nord, McCubbins, and Nord (2006) propose that employers have legal grounds and responsibilities to monitor employee activities, especially in the computer systems and other integral workplace environments. Through workplace monitoring, employers are able to curb workplace harassment, sabotage, and low productivity. Lastly, legal framework regarding employee monitoring should have a considerable degree of clarity to allow comprehension and appropriate and conscious proper signing by the employee.

Although Nord, McCubbins, and Nord (2006) do not comprehensively address the ethical perspective of workplace monitoring, they suggest that employee privacy is vital. As such, an employer should be cautious when monitoring employees, especially when inappropriate monitoring may hamper their morale. Nevertheless, it is imperative to note that the right to privacy has limitations, especially when the employee is using employer’s resources.

NesterSoft (2016) addresses some critical questions regarding legal issues pertinent to workplace monitoring in the UAE legal system. Apparently, the UAE legal framework gives employers legal rights to monitor their property in possession of employees, including computers, servers, and other vital material goods. Moreover, it is legal for employers to check into employees’ personal emails and other personal data.

It is, however, interesting to note that the employer is only allowed to monitor employee through monitoring computers and personal data if the employer does it within the confine of the UAE laws. Notably, the UAE laws protect the employee and their privacy in that the employer can only monitor the employee with their consent. Otherwise, it is illegal for an employer in the UAE to monitor a worker using computers, servers, and personal without their consent.

Workplace Monitoring and Corporate Surveillance (2006) asserts that employers have moral obligations to manage and govern employee activities. As such, they may be held responsible for some unlawful activities of their employees. Therefore, proper monitoring is necessitated. Nevertheless, there are legal guidelines under which workplace monitoring should be done. As such, workplace legality or otherwise could be established in case-to-case bases.

That is to say, workplace monitoring could be legal in some cases and illegal in illegal in others depending on the circumstances and legal systems. For example, it would be legal when an employer to monitor employee’s business-related calls but illegal to monitor private call without proper consent. Therefore, it is sensible for any employer and employee to be conversant with legal and illegal aspects of workplace monitoring.

On ethical issues pertaining workplace monitoring, Workplace Monitoring and Corporate Surveillance (2006) states that although surveillance is crucial, it should be done with limitation. For example, surveillance cameras should not be installed in places like bathrooms. Therefore, it is prudent to limit workplace monitoring, especially to defend employee privacy. Moreover, employers should be careful not to hamper employee’s morale by the inappropriate intrusion of personal privacy.

Clearinghouse (2017) gives different platforms and devices through which an employer may legally monitor employees. A notable factor regarding the legality or otherwise of the workplace monitoring is the ownership of the devices used. Thus, an employer has a legal ground to monitor employee’s activities if the employee is using employer’s devices. As such, worker’s privacy is minimal whenever they use employer’s equipment including computers, emails, and phones.

Regarding attorney-client privilege, Clearinghouse (2017) contends that an employee may lose privacy if the personal if information was sent to their attorney via the employer’s equipment. For instance, the author quotes a case, Holmes v. Petrovich Development Company, LLC, where an employee had sent an email to her attorney via the business email address using the employer’s equipment. The court gave a ruling to the effect that the employee had no right to be protected based on attorney-client privileged. On the contrary, it is possible for an employee to be protected like in the case of Stengart v. LovingCare Agency, Inc., where the court ruled that the employer had illegally monitored a conversation between an employee and their attorney.

One of the interesting components regarding workplace monitoring is when an employee has personal devices such as mobile phones at workplaces and uses them for work purposes. According to Clearinghouse (2017), bring your own device (BYOD) arrangements between employers and their employee heighten the challenges in the legalities of monitoring. However, the author highlights the pivotal element of employee’s consent when monitoring personal devices in BYOD arrangement.


There are justifiable needs for employers to monitor their employees while at work. Some of the reasons include checking on the inappropriate use of equipment, inspection of possible illegal activities, and ensuring the well-being of all employees. On the other hand, employees’ basic right to privacy should be considered.

Apparently, the two contradicting interests, where the employer requires workplace monitoring while the employee fight for their right to privacy, necessitates the question of the related legalities and ethical issues.

From the literature review on this paper, it is apparent that the question of whether it is legal or illegal to perform workplace monitoring could elicit varied responses. The responses would vary depending on different legal systems and workplace agreements. The literature review has provided cases where similar activities where the legalities of monitoring were determined differently depending on the differing situations. Thus, it is prudent to consider the legal and situational context in which workplace monitoring is done before declaring the activity either legal/ethical or illegal/unethical.


The question whether workplace monitoring is legal and ethical is a subject that has provoked debates, concerns, and considerable research. As a result, scholars and pundits have endeavored to provide pertinent and plausible responses. However, it is obvious that the responses are diverse.

The diverse responses on the question on legalities and ethical issues pertaining workplace monitoring focus on the need for employers to protect efficiency in workplaces and misuse of equipment, legal responsibilities of the employer, and employee privacy. Moreover, differences in the responses depend on legal systems and contexts

This research paper has attempted to answer the research question, “Is Workplace Monitoring Legal and Ethical?” A literature review has been adopted as a source of secondary data. From the literature review, it is apparent that workplace monitoring is legal when it is done in accordance with the law. As such, employers and employee should be conversant with legal provisions regarding workplace monitoring. Further, the review indicates that ethical issues may arise if employees’ privacy is denied. As such, there are needs to educate employees and seek their consents where necessary.


Clearinghouse. (2017). . Web.

Cox, S., Goette, T., & Young, D. (2005). Workplace Surveillance and Employee Privacy: Implementing an Effective Computer Use Policy. Communications of the IIMA, 5(2), 55-66.

Moussa, M. (2015). Monitoring Employee Behavior Through the Use of Technology and Issues of Employee Privacy in America. SAGE Open, 1-13. Web.

NesterSoft. (2016). Web.

Nord, G. D., McCubbins, T. F., & Nord, J. H. (2006). E-Monitoring in the Workplace: PRIVACY, LEGISLATION, AND SURVEILLANCE SOFTWARE. Communications of the ACM, 49(8), 72-77.

Workplace Monitoring and Corporate Surveillance. (2006). Web.

Yerby, J. (2013). Legal and ethical issues of employee monitoring. Online Journal of Applied Knowledge Management, 1(2), 44-55.

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