December 1, 2003
Naked At Work
Technology makes employees more productive, makes work easier, and makes our workplaces better. Right? Perhaps. In his book The Naked Employee: How Technology is Compromising Workplace Privacy (Amacom; $24.95), Frederick S. Lane III argues that technology in the workplace is also robbing us of our human right to privacy.
Are there cameras in your workplace? Are the Websites you visit tracked regularly? Is someone else reading the e-mails you send and receive? How did your boss know that your three-day business trip with the company car was really two days at the client site and one day sightseeing?
What’s an employee to do? By the same token, what’s an employer to do, for example, when companies lose billions of dollars worth of inventory each year to employees who use tools from the corporate office to supply their home offices? Or when an hour of research on company time is really 20 minutes of research and 40 minutes of electronic Solitaire?
The Naked Employee is as amusing as it is informative. With chapters like “It’s My Property and I’ll Spy If I Want to” and “We’re From the Government and We’re Here to Help,” Lane, a nationally recognized expert on law and technology, examines the many ways employers regulate and monitor employees’ productivity and efficiency. “The successful operation of any business does, in fact, depend on a certain amount of investigation about, and surveillance of, employees,” says Lane. But he also acknowledges the two questions that immediately arise: How much investigation and surveillance is too much? And how do employees protect themselves against intrusion? His suggestions, for both companies and employees, are sure to foster interesting discussion.
Consider the myriad ways you can be surveyed at work. Aside from any overt or covert eyeballing, there are key cards that record where and at what time you entered, left, and walked about the office; phone taps; records of the phone numbers you’ve called and how long the calls were; software that counts the strokes-per-minute you make on your computer keyboard. And the corporate office is not the only work environment in which Big Brother is watching. Technology that records whether or not an employee has washed his or her hands before leaving the restroom is being implemented more and more frequently in medical establishments and establishments that handle food.
Lane tells many other tales of situations he’s come across in his work: Company cars secretly outfitted with tracking devices, cameras with X-ray vision, employees of adult companies who were fired for not spending enough time on porn Websites. He cites cases of employees suing former employers over the use and/or misuse of e-mail, and of corporations using hair analysis, in addition to urine and blood testing, to screen employees for drug use. More and more sophisticated methods of evaluation are being created and used every day. But for every employee accusation of impropriety and intrusion, Lane discusses precedent-setting court cases that increasingly support the employer—rendering the individual that much more vulnerable.
Lane devotes a whole chapter to