Ethical Implications of Employee Monitoring:
What Leaders Should Consider
Bahaudin G. Mujtaba, Nova Southeastern University
Employee monitoring, due to the increase in cyberloafing and lawsuits, has become more widespread and
much easier with the use of new and cheaper technologies. Both employers and employees are concerned with
the ethical implications of constant monitoring. While employers use monitoring devices to keep track of their
employees' actions and productivity, their employees feel that too much monitoring is an invasion of their
privacy. Thus, the ethics of monitoring employees is explored and current practices are discussed. This document
further provides suggestions for reducing cyberloafing and encourages institutions to create and effectively
communicate ethical standards for employee monitoring in their firms. The author has included actual samples of
employees' perceptions and feelings from the surveys and discussions on being monitored.
The Ethics of Employee Monitoring: What You Need to Know!
Employee monitoring has emerged as a necessity and yet as a very controversial issue due to the complexity
and widespread use of technology. Employee monitoring is the act of watching and monitoring
employees' actions during working hours using employer equipment/property (Raposa & Mujtaba, 2003).
Employers are concerned with proper employee behavior and Code of Conduct compliance in relation to their
industries and related organizations. While more and more employers are using monitoring devices to check
or keep track of their employees' actions, some employees feel that too much monitoring is an invasion of
their privacy. Many employees are anxious about the status of their stocks and/or the safety of their family
members around the world since the attacks of September 11, 2001 on the Twin Towers in New York City and feel
obligated to watch the latest news on the Internet while on the job. While exceptional circumstances can be
tolerated by the employers, they also feel that excess use of the Internet for non-job related activities
while on the job can be destructive for their firm. The Orlando Sentinel (1999) stated that cost for employees
surfing the Internet, during work hours using company equipment and time, in large industries could be as
much as one billion dollars each year. Thus, the ethics of monitoring employees is explored and ethical
dimensions of this issue are presented in order to provide a full picture of this practice. Furthermore,
throughout the document there are discussions about future evolvement of employee monitoring with the
emergence of new technology.
Webster's Illustrated Contemporary Dictionary states the definition of ethics as the basic principles of
right actions. Values are things regarded as desirable, worthy, or right, as a belief or an ideal.
Morals pertain to character and behavior from society's view of right and wrong. A belief
is the acceptance of something as real or actual. Ethics can also be the decision making of actions based
on a set of values, morals, and beliefs that a person possesses. This document highlights a corporation's
need for ethical standards, the application of those standards, the ethical treatment of its stakeholders
(employees, customers, and/or suppliers), and the impact of the law on employee monitoring. Why is employee
monitoring an emerging ethical issue? It is an ethical issue due to the emergence and introduction of new
technology available to both employees and employers that can be misused and abused.
The Emergence of New Technology and Explosion of the Internet
Lim (2002) mentioned that, "anecdotal evidence suggests that the Internet is a double-edged sword which
companies should deploy freely to employees with caution." While Internet is the best thing that has
happened since "sliced bread", it is also the biggest international playground for adults of all hobbies.
A survey of 1,000 American workers revealed that 64% of those with Internet access tend to use it for
personal interests during working hours. A question to start with is "can technology change or influence
our sense of values, morals, or ethics?" The answer would be yes since technology can influence our actions
and behaviors as it already has in many cases. Actions and behaviors, in turn, tend to form our values,
ethics and ultimately our character.
We all live in a technologically advanced world in which informed and just decisions have to be made about
very technical and enormously complicated issues. One major concerrn that has been voiced repeatedly regarding
technolgical advances is use of the Internet and privacy issues.
Anyone (at work or home) who uses your computer or has access to it can find out why you have been using it.
Every time you use the Internet your Internet activities are being recorded and every picture you've seen while
you are on-line is probably copied to your computer's hard drive and connected servers. For example, every
website you've visited on-line is often recorded into a secret file in Windows and is usually added to your
drop down list. Even your homepage could be changed and you can be tracked from anywhere in the world.
While many people think of e-mail as a convenient alternative to a telephone conversation and just as private
(although many professional telephone calls are monitored as well) there is a big difference. E-mail is as
public as a postcard and leaves a written record long after it has been erased. Any skilled person can recover
the e-mail message's ghost somewhere deep in the bowels of a networked system. And so far, businesses seem to
have the perfect right to do so, according to the law and recent court rulings. Pushing the delete button
doesn't do much, because we usually find a copy somewhere else on the system.
According to a study conducted by ComStore Networks, 59% of on-line sales in 2002 were conducted from the
shopper's workplace. Peak Internet access from work occurred between 10 A.M. and Noon. That means many
employees are taking advantage of employer-provided access to the Web to conduct distinctly non-work related
business. This includes shopping, bidding on on-line auctions, booking travel, visiting chat rooms, writing
personal e-mails or just surfing the Internet as a hobby. One company in Seattle, N3H3, which tracks lost
productivity, estimates that conducting personal business and surfing at work costs the typical 1000 employee
company approximately 11 million dollars a year (Future Magazine 2003) and another study totals this to
about 63 billion dollars each for American firms.
There are however legitimate individuals in many firms that are required to surf the net to check out the
industry, their customers, their suppliers, their competitors and so on. One example would be "Shared
Software authors that write software and then share their work over the Internet, more or less for free.
While technicians and group support system facilitators often fill formal roles within organizations, the
role of shared software authors is less defined and often falls completely outside of formal organizational
boundaries. Their role is bounded by the needs created by new technology, is played out over electronic
communication networks, and is exemplified by demonstrations of commitment. Their role in the social exchange
of information over the Internet and World Wide Web has not changed much over the last few years, but their
influence on society has increased along with the influence of the Internet and the World Wide Web. Shared
software authors are a unique set of people whose behavior is not easily explained with conventional models.
Brief History of the Internet
The Internet first began forming in 1969, when the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects agency
(DARPA) began looking for a way to create a dependable communications network with multiple-backups to
survive a nuclear war. At issue was the fact that no matter how completely the network was protected,
surviving a nuclear attack seemed impossible (Sterling, 1995). Sterling explains the development of the
Internet by stating that about 34 years ago "the RAND Corporation, America's foremost Cold War think-tank,
faced a strange strategic problem. How could the US authorities successfully communicate after a nuclear
war?" As a result, the Internet essentially began in 1969 with four nodes on the network. Throughout the
1970s, the network grew, aided by the spread of the personal computer. The decentralized structure made
expansion easy since it could accommodate many different kinds of machines. The following are some key
dates in Internet history:
- 1984 - Pentagon gives up control of Internet. Congress passes computer security act.
- 1990s - spread of modems and networked computing brings the Internet to average citizens and commercial enterprises.
- December 1992 - Internet Society established with members from 120 countries.
- May 1993 - National Science Foundation (NSF) announces plan to turn the Internet over to private sector.
- September 1993 - Clinton administration announces goal of connecting every school, library and hospital to the information superhighway by 2000.
- April 30, 1995 - NSF hands over control of the Internet to private sector (Clark, 1995).
The use of the Internet exploded for many reasons. One is freedom to explore and communicate with thousands
of global organizations and individuals simultaneously in the cheapest way possible. There is no "Internet,
Inc." There are no bosses, censors, or boards of directors. In principle, any node can talk to any other
node so long as the technical protocols are followed. The Internet is also cheap. It doesn't charge for
long distance service. In fact, the "Internet" itself, which does not even officially exist as an entity,
does not charge for anything. The Internet belongs to everyone and to no one thus the reason for mass
explosion. This also raises the issue of regulation.
Today the Internet has expanded around the world. As its use grew, the issue of regulation came to the
forefront. Since the United States created the Internet, it took the leading role in proposing a method
of Internet regulation known as self-regulation. The self-regulation concept suggests that the Internet
Community - mainly engineers, software developers, analysts, network specialists, administrators, and users,
determine the standards, codes of ethics, and direction of the Internet, with minimal government participation,
input and control (Eko, 2001).
The concept of self-regulation for Internet was first proposed by President Bill Clinton and Vice President
Al Gore. Support for it, and belief in it, has been mixed. Jason Cartlett, president and founder of Junkbusters,
a Breen Brook (N.J.) Internet-privacy advocacy group pleaded the case for more stringent regulation.
Cartlett (1999) stated unequivocally, "self-policing is an optimistic delusion, and it flies in the face of
all experience on the Internet" (Internet Regulation: Will It Hinder or Help Small Businesses?). He stated
that the worst cases are those of spammers who behave in an unethical manner and will not stop unless taken
to court for violation of specific laws.
Spam is indeed a huge concern to Internet users. Spam is defined as "unsolicited commercial bulk
e-mail" and consists of advertisements that marketers blindly send to large mailing lists. There will be 76
billion spam emails sent worldwide in 2003 (Metz & Selzer, 2003). While spam is maddening and time
consuming, stopping spam is extremely difficult. In addition, a fine line exits between putting restrictions
on worthless and annoying junk e-mail (or even forcing such messages to be prefixed by the header ADV, for
advertisement) and banning the distribution of information that has the potential to be socially valuable.
Direct marketers make the point that restricting spam completely limits consumer choices and the free market.
However, those who favor regulation often do so in the interest of protecting privacy rights. As a society,
Americans generally value privacy (Hartman, 2001 p. 407). In 1986 Congress enacted the Electronic Communications
Privacy Act (ECPA). The purpose of the act was to extend privacy protections against wiretapping to new forms
of electronic communication such as e-mail and data transmission, from improper interception. In general the
ECPA prohibits interception of wire, oral, and electronic communications, as well as disclosure or use of such
intercepted communications. While electronic communication is covered by the ECPA, still unresolved is the
use of spammers and advertisers of personal information provided voluntarily and then sold or "rented."
Consumer choice and free speech are at the heart of the arguments against Internet regulation. In an article
by the American Civil Liberties Union (Roleff, 1999) the ACLU argues that free speech is threatened by software
programs that would rate or block controversial material on the Internet. The ACLU contends the notion that
citizens should "self-rate" their speech is contrary to the entire history of free speech in America. The
ACLU asserts that Internet content should be afforded the "highest constitutional protection." Others agree.
Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican and chairman of the committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation,
believes that congressional assurances of no Internet regulation will help promote the development of advanced
telecommunication services nationwide (Fusco, 1999).
International considerations further complicate attempts to regulate Internet materials. The geographical
dispersion of the Internet eliminates the jurisdiction of any one country. Billions of bytes of data are sent
across country borders every day without the authorization, or even knowledge, of the countries involved. An
example: after a group of record companies managed to shut down Napster for copyright infringement in 2002,
they took another file-sharing service, Kazaa, to court in 2001. They discovered that Sharman Networks, the
distributor of the software is incorporated in the South Pacific, and managed from Australia. The computer
servers are in Denmark; its source code is thought to be stored in Estonia, and its developers live in the
Netherlands. The service had 60 million users in 150 countries. Even if an American court decides against
Kazaa, it may not be able to enforce its judgment (Through a Glass Darkly, 2003). Issues like this are
widespread since the Internet has "no central authority" and is in numerous countries across the globe.
The core issue of Internet regulation is control. The Internet is too widespread to be dominated by any one
government or country. The Internet creates a world community that is borderless and cannot be regulated by
any one entity. It challenges the idea of the nation-state. The Internet offers the ability of everyone or
anyone to express to the rest of the world whatever they believe. It provides both an intellectual and
economic liberty that might just undo all the authoritarian powers on earth. If, however, regulation and
censorship prevail, the potential consequences will exceed merely controlling abuses of Internet at work and
pornography. "Any system of control that can stop us from writing dirty words online is a system that can
control our collective conversation in other more frightening ways. If any nation-state can perfect a method
to exercise this control, they may own enough of the mind of mankind to perpetuate themselves far beyond their
usefulness" (Barlow, 1997).
Many have been using the phrase "we live in an age of discontinuity". It basically means that we live in an
age of change and disconnection from the past. Things are changing faster than ever before and in ways we
could not anticipate, and that these changes have wide-ranging effects. Such as, beginning in the early 1970s,
with the overnight quadrupling of world oil prices, economic shocks have continued to impose changes on
organizations. Or, recent economic problems of the late 1980s and early 1990s in Russia, Asia, and Latin
America that have rocked world stock markets. Through the use of technology, information travels instantaneously
throughout our organizations, industries and countries. This can create many ethical issues when misused.
Ethical Issues and Technology
As this decade and millennium move forward, exciting technological advancements and changes are taking place
daily. Many of our professional and personal tasks are becoming even more convenient and quicker to perform.
Online shopping sales through the Internet are skyrocketing, and many Americans seem to be in a race to see
who can get the newest gadgets first. Yet, as people scramble for the newest item that will make their lives
easier, ethics and morality issues seem to be slowly deteriorating as we see the leaders of giant firms being
handcuffed and taken to jail for wrongdoings. With things like Television, the Internet, computers, Electronic
and Voice mail, people seem to be relying on technology more and more everyday and less on face-to-face
interactions. Unfortunately, along with the benefits of technology, come several ethical issues, including
employee monitoring, that people (including employers) have to deal with in the coming years.
Cyberloafing at work. Much of the research has been devoted to how technological advancements have
created a new efficient workplace, revolutionizing the ways in which work is being carried out, and how
employees can improve their productivity while enjoying their work. However, the advent of technology has
also opened up new avenues and opportunities for individuals to misbehave (Lim, 2002). According to Robbins
(2001), "Social loafing" is the tendency for individuals to expend less effort when working collectively than
when working individually. Causes of social loafing can include a belief that others in the group are not
carrying their fair share; the dispersion of responsibility, the relationship between an individual's input
and the group's output is clouded; and the belief that there will be a reduction in efficiency where individuals
think that their contribution cannot be measured. While teams can be involved in social loafing online, many
individuals are certainly involved in "cyberloafing" while ignoring their own responsibilities as determined
by their employers.
The study of cyberloafing. "The act of employees using their companies' Internet access for personal
purposes during work hours" focuses on a form of production deviance (Lim, 2002). Using the theoretical
frameworks offered by social exchange, organizational justice and neutralization, Lim examined the often-neglected
dark side of the Internet and the role that neutralization techniques play in facilitating this misbehavior
at the workplace. Specifically, Lim developed a model which suggested that when employees perceived their
organizations to be distributively, procedurally and interactionally unjust, they were likely to invoke the
metaphor of the ledger as a neutralization technique to legitimize their subsequent engagement in the act of
cyberloafing. Data were collected with the use of an electronic questionnaire and focus group interviews from
188 working adults with access to the Internet at the workplace. Lim concluded that leaders and managers
should understand the cumulative effect of cyberloafing in their firms in order for the Internet to work for,
and not against, the company.
Privacy at work. One issue, in regards to technology, is the loss of privacy at work. Currently, most
employers feel it is their right to read and intercept private Electronic and Voice Mail of their employees.
It is understandable that workers often feel as if their rights were violated if personal e-mail was
intercepted or read without their permission. However, many employers feel that by reading e-mail, they may
be able to prevent personal use or abuse of company resources, employee theft, and/or espionage. If the
company is publicly traded, employers must ensure employees are abiding by the rules set forth by the
Securities and Exchange Commission, in order to protect trade secrets and proprietary information. Yet,
employees feel differently about this issue. They feel that if e-mail is addressed to their name, no one else
has the right to read it. Ethical issues arise regarding the right to privacy. Legislation has been brought
forth to try and resolve such issues, but the debate rages on. Many companies still intercept e-mail and
voice mail, based on legislation that states that if an organization gives prior consent, they protect
themselves against the risk of liability, by notifying employees their e-mails may be read (Hartman, 2001).
An example might be the "Capital One Ethics Policy" regarding Electronic Mail and Voice Mail. The policy
states: "Capital One expressly reserves the right to access, monitor, retrieve, read, or listen to and delete
any communication created, received, or sent in the electronic and voice mail systems" (Capital One Ethics
Policy, received July 26, 2002). According to various Ethical Theories, employers should be "faithful agents
to client interests" (Guthrie, 2002, p.1). Hence, this includes employees, (internal clients) as well.
Perhaps management should consider the feelings of workers, before they unethically view, or listen to
private mail, of any kind.
Information technology. Along with the issue of lack of privacy at work, is the loss of privacy in
general, due to emerging technology. With the emergence of information technology, "vast amounts of data are
accessible to businesses and their employees" (Cronan & Kreie, 2000, p. 66). Normal use of this information
may result positively for customers. However, businesses are still concerned with the "potential misuse of
information technology" by customers, vendors, competitors, and suppliers (Cronan & Kreie, 2000, p. 66).
This misuse can stem from neglect or malice, on the part of the employee or any other stakeholder of the firm.
Yet, in many instances, some of the unethical acts "are the results of an individual's uncertainty or misunderstanding
of appropriate behavior" (Henry & Pierce, 2000, p. 307). Hence, businesses should be sure to incorporate
ethics policies and training anywhere that information technology is available. It is evident that with emerging
technologies, arise several (new) ethical concerns for employees and employers. To combat these potential issues,
clear ethics policy and training are necessary. With proper instruction and training, employees can learn that
ethical reasoning means doing what is morally right, even in the face of powerful selfish desires (Elder, 1999, p. 4).
Understanding and Thoughts on Cyberloafing
The following are some general comments gathered from a total of 38 individuals (in four different groups) on
a discussion about cyberloafing and whether their firms had an Internet Policy at work. The participants were
working professionals pursuing a Masters degree on-line in technology management or Organizational Management.
They were 25 years of age or older and had at least six years of full-time work experience. Six participants
were managers and the rest were full-time employees in various service related fields. There were 13 female
and 25 males in the groups. The discussion sought their thoughts on cyberloafing, their understanding of privacy
issues at work, and whether their firms had specific policies about cyberloafing.
I expect to be monitored in my organization. The job I have requires full secret national security clearance.
The data is sensitive and restricted. My company would be foolish not to institute security measures. The
data of my company and its subcontractors and the governments cannot be compromised. Therefore, everyone
here is aware of the consequences of downloading prohibited content or surfing excessively. People do not
understand that every site you go to from Wal-Mart to any commercial retail site has embedded monitoring
tools to track your every click of the mouse. Don't believe me, go to cnet.com and download freeware,
spybot. You will see how easy it is to get in a network and gather data. Hackers don't have to go through
your firewall or get your passwords. They come in right through the very web sites we think are safe. Every
major company in the world has safeguards in place. There very existence depends on it. Invasion of privacy
deserves respect and consideration but monitoring is necessary in the workplace.
I have no problem with my work monitoring my internet use, not because any of the information jeopardizes
national security or is even very sensitive to the company but because it can be a money saving tool to
weed out the cyber loafers. It is widely known around our company that they can read emails and check
what sites you go to if they desire to and we have a firewall that blocks out the potential corrupt sites
and everyone believes this is to reduce the time wasted surfing the net. I think the point about the
internet sites we visit that are capable of monitoring us would be a better point to stress in order to
keep people from abusing the net, this is because it involves safeguarding the company and not "trying to
monitor every move of the employee" which sometimes upsets people.
I think that the term cyberloafing can be interpreted in different ways especially with the way that the
surf engines work and how pop-ups have been invading the net lately. I think it is wrong to abuse the
net at work and think it should be considered the same as making personal phone calls, both are personal
dealings on the clock. The reason I said abuse the net is because in many situations people give more
than the expected 8 hours and personal phone calls are acceptable (if not abused) so I feel spending a
few minutes checking my bank account or personal email is not a big deal, surfing for several hours
looking for a new car or house would be cutting into your working hours and therefore abusive. So,
personal responsibility should be on the shoulders of each employee and cyberloafing should be monitored
just like the abuse of lunch hour, phone call privileges, daily breaks, etc.
Cyberloafing is a problem and should be monitored. We had an employee experience an unexpected early
dismissal when management discovered he was surfing pornographic sites. Interesting thing is he was a
physician resident at the hospital. Not the kind of thing a doctor would want on their resume huh? On
a more humorous note, the chief of medical services tried to access the USA Today site one day and he
accidentally (at least that is what he claims) ended up on a porn site. You can't imagine how fast he
dialed the IT department to report and clarify that situation.
How far is it acceptable for companies to go to limit employee surfing on the Internet? One example of
limiting that I have come across is the lottery website. My company blocks the NY lottery website.
Instead of being directed to a website, a message comes up saying that you are in an unauthorized area
and this part of the Internet is restricted. I still maintain that some personal use of the Internet can
further enhance the professional needs and vice versa. One example of this can be educational websites
such as the NY Stock exchange or Museum of modern art. The NYSE website offers a financial glossary of
terms that can be very helpful professionally, while at the same time you can look up your personal stock
quotes. Websites such as the MOMA serve to widen the cultural spectrum of employees and corporations
offer special discounts to encourage the use of these venues.
Personally, I really do not like the idea of being monitored. It's an issue of privacy and having
personal space at work. For example, I have my desk at work and I would feel uncomfortable knowing that
management will randomly search the contents on my desk or in my draws and files. Yes, it is the company's
property; however, it is natural for human beings to feel territorial. I was responsible with creating
the internet/computer usage policy at my organization. When I came aboard at this non-profit organization
I was quite surprised to see co-workers spending most of their time chatting, sending personal emails,
and surfing in general. Apparently, the director was aware of this situation; however, s/he felt insecure
about the Internet/computer usage and had not instituted any policy until I came aboard. In the policy,
all employees are aware that management can and will do random checks to ensure that they are complying.
This policy has been in effect since January of 2003. We have not done any random checks but I foresee
one in the very near future. Maybe then we will see how employees embrace the reality. It is good that
we have specific policies to make sure people are aware that they should not be loafing at work on the
Internet. Of-course, violators can be reprimanded a few times and then terminated when policies are in
place and effectively communicated to others.
In my job I have to "lock" PCs down from those that abuse their Internet privilege. It is easy to
restrict internet access. One thing I like about windows XP Professional is that I can literally block
all Internet access except links to approved sites. I do this at home to protect my children as well.
My children get to use pbskids.org, nasakids.org, and a few other such sites. They are not being punished
but only protected. However, the same way I protect them you could protect and punish the abusers in your
organization. You might consider only allowing surf time at certain hours (such as from 11 AM-1 PM or
during lunch time).
Working at a VA Hospital we are subject to the same level of monitoring that many government agencies use.
They currently are monitoring Internet usage but at this point I don't think they are monitoring our e-mail.
The list of Internet abusers is supposedly going to the Director, which is then supposed to be acted upon
by the various hospital area managers. I, personally, don't like the idea of being monitored but realize
the necessity. I am not an abuser but do occasionally use the network to access the Internet to take advantage
of the connection speeds (i.e.: downloading / uploading files, accessing school newsgroups, etc.). Yes,
at home I am usually connected at a riveting 19.2 kbps to give you an idea of why I occasionally use the
work connection. Interestingly enough, just the other day while I was in the gym before starting work,
one of the Nurse Practitioners actually asked me if we were monitoring Internet usage and if so what was
being done about it. He was concerned about the lack of productivity related to the abuse.
My company has set policies that control the cyberloafing activities. They are filtering and blocking
solutions control employee access to Internet content based on address, name, or content. So, I am aware
that my incoming and outgoing emails and Internet connections are being monitored by the company. I am
OK with this policy as I am aware of it. The first fallout of workers spending time on the Internet
indulging in non-work related activity is loss of productivity. Companies should monitor cyberloafing in
order to make sure they are keeping up with the competition and in order for them to make the best use
of their stockholder's investment. Respecting a worker's basic privacy and essential needs, an employer
could include provisions for private use of Internet in the policy. I really do not like the idea of
being monitored. But most people don't mind being accountable to somebody. They don't mind being monitored
as long as they know about it.
I read a report that as much as 30-40 of an employee's productivity could be lost due to Internet surfing
for non-job related activities. Therefore, I would support monitoring devices for such loafing. I would
also support educating employees about such policies that will impact them. When these policies are in
place, then they should be fully enforced in order for them to become a part of the culture and deter
I did not know that one's PC at work could be monitored so closely. I did notice, however, that once you
log on to a website, it's recorded. Every time you touch the first couple characters, the previously viewed
website pops up. In the tax preparer's business, our manager prohibited all use of the Internet connections.
S/he threatens cyberloafing as grounds for removal without remedy. Yet, it still happens when the manager
is away just as the mice play when the cat is not around. I wonder if the others (co-workers) are aware
of such monitoring capability. I suspect that some of my colleagues might not be aware that all emails
can be monitored and copies are maintained on several servers for record keeping.
I agree we all need the freedom to surf for educational and research purposes, etc. Unfortunately those
that abuse the privilege are the ones that keep you and I from enjoying a truly modern marvel. One thing
I wish companies would offer is a cafe with Internet access for surfing. Employees could get coffee,
etc. and surf public websites. This could even be on a separate subnet--network to ensure company data
is not compromised. I mean its funny how many vending machines are available all over in our buildings.
And to me, many employees abuse smoke breaks and food breaks and the same will hold true for Internet
usage as well. The same amount of time smoking, eating, surfing would get them in trouble if there
specific policies in place and enforced. What's the difference? Either way, no work is getting done when
people are loafing.
I feel that cyberloafing can be compared to going off on a tangent during a lecture or presentation. Most
people use the Internet at work for research or downloading of applications and files. I feel that the
line between personal and professional Internet usage is blurred, at least in my firm. Learning how to
download a screensaver for example, although for a personal purpose, can build confidence in downloading
and installing applications on a desktop. After that a similar business purpose might be to go to the
Microsoft website and download updates for your operating system, or visit the USRobotics website and
download a driver for a modem. My point is that sometimes you experiment using your personal experiences
and then they get carried over to the professional arena. So, some experimentation is good for learning,
although it should be limited.
I wonder how many times each cyberloafing happens because there is no way of quantifying Internet usage
which is not directly related to work, to justify excessive Internet usage. One of the things that characterize
cyber loafing is going through sites that do not have any possible relation with what you do. For example,
if I am a software developer and I go through a site that gives me recipes to make good apple pie using
office computer during working hours, then my time on the Internet is not adding value to the organization.
Such cyberloafing is a value-destroyer for the firm and should not be allowed.
Unfortunately, many individuals abuse their right to the Internet and play around when they should be
performing valuable work for their organization. So, monitoring policies/guidelines should be developed
and communicated. There are many Web Surfing Control Softwares for children that I have used and they can
be used in small firms the same way. You can find more information on how to protect your teen from this
Another site you may want to check out is www.cybersitter.com.
Their program, at cybersitter.com, is rated high by PC Magazine.
I think many companies do keep logging the Internet activities, but sometimes I wonder, whether people
even go through the logs or not? I remember once an employee complaining about illegal websites being
viewed in the office, and the first thing the manager did was to ask, "do we log activities on the
Internet?" So, I am not sure if everybody is even aware of cyberloafing policies and even if they are,
if it is being used at all.
I do believe that my company's IT personnel run the reports every quarter. How do I know this? One
employee in my department was fired because he was logging to "Sex" websites and downloading images many
times each month. His manager didn't know until the report showed. He was terminated on the spot because
the policy was clear and all employees had signed the letter on Internet policy.
The Emergence and Necessity of Employee Monitoring
According to Hartman (2001, p. 404), concerns about "privacy protection is not a new issue, and employee
privacy encompasses a spectrum of issues including: Drug testing, searches of employees and their work
areas, psychological testing, telephone, computer, and electronic monitoring, and other types of employee
surveillance." Much of the research showcases the ethics of privacy in the workplace in regards to employee
monitoring of workstations, e-mail, voice mail, computer documents, telephone, and similar types of surveillance.
To fully understand the scope of this issue, the reasons why an employer would choose to monitor employees
should be discussed and understood. Researchers need to understand both employer and employees' views on
As reported by the American Management Association, a survey was conducted in 2001, to determine the forms of
employee monitoring in place and the reasons why employers would monitor (Raposa and Mujtaba, 2003). Management
respondents stated the following:
|Areas of Monitoring
|Monitored Internet connections
|Monitored the storage and review of e-mail messages
|Monitored the storage and review of computer files
|Engaged in video recording of employee job performance
|Monitored telephone conversations
|Monitored storage and review of voice mail messages
Over all, 77.7% of management respondents stated that they engaged in some form of employee surveillance or electronic monitoring.
Among the highest reported reasons for employee monitoring have been:
- Legal liability,
- Security concerns,
- Productivity measurement,
- Legal compliance and
- Performance review.
Legal Liability ranked the highest concern by managers at 68.3%, and performance review ranked as a concern
by 45.3% of respondents in the survey (AMA, 2002). Some extremely interesting figures shed more light on
management's concern of employee's activities. Research shows that thirty to forty percent of Internet use
in the workplace is not related to business activities of the organization (Employee Monitoring Solutions,
2002). An increase in employee shopping via the Internet at work has increased from 12% in 1999 to almost
25% in 2001 (EMS, 2002). Employee Monitoring Systems continues to state that on-line shoppers like the
"convenience of the faster connection speed."
Employers' Perspective on Monitoring
Various researchers have suggested that industries could be wasting up to one billion dollars each year because
of Internet surfing for non-job related activities. Others estimate the cost to the American economy could be
as high as 63 billion dollars each year for cyberloafing. Cyberloafers need not be absent from their offices
or desks since the computer provides them the world's biggest playground and personal work opportunities.
Lim (2002) states that cyberloafers in their virtual travels away from the office "may–unwittingly or
otherwise–visit sites which expose the organization to legal liabilities and to the dangers posed by
computer viruses." Lim goes on to say that "cyberloafers may pose a greater threat to the organization relative
to the other types of loafers, in terms of productivity losses and cost incurred." Beside such losses, employers
are greatly concerned with sensitive and confidential information being sent outside of the company to its
competitors, vendors, suppliers, and customers; thus employees harming the company. According to Gahtan's
(1997) article titled "Monitoring Employee Communication", there have been instances where employees
were sending confidential information and corporate trade secrets through an employer's e-mail systems to
other employees or friends. Furthermore, employees have been caught using an employer's Internet facilities
to start and/or operate their own businesses while on the job. Gahtan offers further reasoning for employee
monitoring by stating, "…employers may also find that they could be held liable for e-mail or Internet-related
activities of their employees" regardless of whether the employer was aware such activities or not. Gahtan
offers recent lawsuits as excellent reasons for employer concern.
A subsidiary of Chevron Corporation owed 2.2 million after a sexual harassment lawsuit was filed when an
e-mail entitled "Why Beer is Better Than Women" was circulated within the company.
"About 80% of employees in industries such as banking, insurance, telecommunications, travel, and other
related service industries might be subject to some level of telephone or computer-based monitoring"
(Gahtan, 1997). Many firms continuously monitor the incoming and outgoing communication (e-mails and
calls) by or to their employees for quality control and training purposes. For example, some telecommunication
firms monitor their employee's business calls to ensure the highest customer service and compliance to
mandated FCC requirement verbiage. Such firms can be fined for FCC non-compliance observations.
Many software solutions are available to assist employers in monitoring. For example, "Spector Pro" has the
only advanced warning system that will let you know immediately when your spouse, kids, or employees are
behaving inappropriately online (EMS, 2002). This software can record e-mail outside of the company's intranet
e-mail system. It can record the web sites viewed and messages on Hotmail, AOL E-mail, Yahoo E-mail, Outlook
E-mail, and many instant messenger services. Snapshots of screens visited can be taken for future evidence
as well. Other software available can record usage times, every stroke that is typed, and remotely monitor
and shutdown an application! Regardless of format or software, all activities related to employee monitoring,
like surveillance, is a highly complicated and controversial way to gather information for an investigation
(CCH Business Owners Toolkit, 2001).
Based upon structured interviews conducted with managers of 66 companies that allowed Internet access to their
employees by Mirchandani & Motwani, (2003), there are many measures available for organizations to reduce
Internet abuse. The following table has the list of measures used by firms to reduce Internet abuse
(Mirchandani & Motwani, 2003) along with the percentage of firms surveyed that use such measures (ranked
from most used to least used measure).
|Measure to Reduce Internet Abuse
||% Using measure
1. Have a written company manual / policy sheet / employee handbook / memorandum stating that the
Internet at work is to be used for work related purposes only
2. Have manager reprimand employees who abuse the Internet at work
3. Monitor with special software all the websites visited by employees
4. Limit Internet access to only certain employees upon their supervisors' consent
5. Take away Internet privileges of employees who abuse the Internet at work
6. Block access to non-work related and offensive websites by using Internet Filters
7. Terminate employees who abuse the Internet at work
8. Have employees sign a form stating that they will abstain from visiting offensive websites while at work
9. Monitor with special software all the e-mails of employees
10. Have employees agree to accept the company's Internet Use Policy when logging into their computers
11. Allow but limit personal Internet usage to employees in their free time, or after work hours, or in emergencies
12. Monitor electronic files downloaded on the computers of employees to identify if they are non-work related
13. Monitor with special software what every computer in the company is being used for at a particular time
14. Have employees who access Internet-enabled computers at work to log their name, time in, time out, and the reason for using the Internet
15. Use an "Internet cop" to police the workplace for Internet abuse
16. Arrange seminars, staff meetings, and show videotapes to educate new and current employees about Internet abuse
17. Have employees with Internet access at work fill out weekly log sheets describing their Internet usage
18. Watch on camera all employees using the Internet
In the year 2000, the author worked as a Senior Training Specialist for a giant retailer, ranked by Times
Magazine as one of the top 100 best companies to work for in America, there were about 35 employees and
computers in the department but only five computers had external Internet access. Employees had to make
appointments to use the PCs with Internet connection for specific purposes/research. Use of Internet for
personal reasons was not allowed.
Employees' Perspective on Monitoring
Employees are concerned with their privacy in the workplace. In many cases, their concerns are very valid.
"Employers want to be sure their employees are doing a good job, but employees do not want their every sneeze
or trip to the water cooler logged" (Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, 2002). Employees feel that their every
move is exposed and being watched. Is this a healthy or ethical work environment for people? About 41
percent of employee respondents say employers are not doing what they should to protect personal privacy
(AFL-CIO, 2002). Employees feel that there may be too many restrictions put on them in the workplace.
Employees of Northwest state that they are monitored on how long their calls are and how long they remain at
their desks taking calls. In one telecommunication firm, they utilized an Automatic Call Distribution (ACD)
computer system to manage customer call volumes and customer service representative availability. Where the
ethical dilemma enters this scenario is how and why the ACD monitors employees. Some firms such as Verizon
and Publix may require certain amount of time available for incoming calls. The ACD can be utilized to
determine the existence of unethical behavior such as closing out to avoid taking calls, making personal
calls or hanging up on customers. To the employees, it feels like Big Brother watching. "Workers have high
blood pressure and are taking anti-depressants from the stress" of their jobs and uncertainly in today's work
environment (Profiles AFL-CIO, 2002). Furthermore, often employees feel using the Internet for personal
hobbies is a form of relaxation and it is one benefit of working for such low pay. Several University
employees felt that since they are not paid well and things are always slow using the Internet to pay bills,
check the movies, and stay updated on the news is OK. Research has shown that when employees do not feel
valued or appreciated by their employers, they are likely to be involved in such acts and legitimize their
cyberloafing activities. The following are actual comments from employees of several large organizations,
including two Universities, who seem to think cyberloafing is justified because they are not being treated
well or because they don't earn enough income for their hard work.
I don't think cyberloafing is a crime. While doing personal work on company time is wrong, using the
Internet for personal issues is not because most employees would get their work done first and then surf
the net during their idle time.
The education industry does not pay very well but access to the Internet is a good tool and benefit. I
work here because it pays one hundred percent of my tuition and because I have access to so much material
online. So, I can get much of my work done for school before I get home. It allows me to have a life
beyond school and work.
I think many companies and managers do not appreciate their employees. The economy is worse than ever
and salaries are not rising as fast as they should. I have not received a decent raise in nearly two
years. I do use the Internet for personal activities because I see it as part of the payment.
I get my work done first and often stay after hours to work on projects given to me by my manager. So,
sometimes I do use the Internet to check my personal emails and to get some shopping done. This works
well because I only have one computer at home and usually the kids or my husband is using it.
Using the Internet for non-work related activities is OK in this University because we get paid below the
average in this city. We work very hard and receive no appreciation for it - not even a virtual thank
Lim (2002) concludes that employees can easily convince themselves that cyberloafing is not an unacceptable
act and it does not cost the company much since it is already paid for. Furthermore, employees who are not
satisfied or feel they are not paid fairly for their work simply see cyberloafing as a means of "cashing in
these accumulated credits and view it as a fair entitlement." On April 19, 2003, FOX News reported that there
has been a 28% increase in bank robberies this year compared to 2002 due to the bad economy. Bad economy may
further increase the reasons for employees to behave unethically and reason that they deserve it. These days,
many employees search the Internet for other job opportunities while at work. This can be very time consuming
as a study of university students found that students spend an average of four hours on a company's website
during the job search looking at their mission, vision, rules, policies and cultural mores (Brice and Waung,
Impact of Employee Monitoring
Monitoring employees can have ill effects on employees. It can "…inject an air of suspicion and
hostility into the workplace" (Schulman, 2001). Monitoring can deter cyberloafing and, at the same time,
it can be counterproductive as it can cause resentment in employees at being treated like children (Lim,
2002). The culture can become one of a mistrust and hostile work environment when employees do not see the
justification of monitoring. Businesses may be opening themselves up to lawsuits for such situations when
the policies are not clear or if they are not communicated effectively to everyone. Should a company be
telling employees that they are monitoring? The answer is yes since employees have a right to know. Is it
ethical to monitor? Ethically speaking, if monitoring deters misbehavior and produces better results for
the employee, the owners, the customers, and other relevant stakeholders, then it can be ethical. The
Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) became a law in 1986. It "…prohibits the interception
of electronic communications" (Cotton, 2002). "The ECPA has three major exceptions that limit the actual
protection afforded to employee e-mail: the provider exception, the prior-consent exception, and the
business-use exception" (Cotton, 2002).
Legislation to regulate electronic monitoring in the workplace have been filed in several states. In
Massachusetts, a bill (2231) on electronic monitoring is currently being reviewed since January 28, 2002
(MA state website 2002). "If an electronic mail (e-mail) system is used at a company, the employer owns it
and is allowed to review its contents" (Privacy Rights Clearinghouse). The American Civil Liberties Union
has a task force on Civil Liberties in the Workplace. Milinda Shah, a spokesperson for this taskforce said
the ECPA "…prohibits employers from using 'information gathered from private calls for business
reasons, for employment purposes'" (Hartman, 2001, p. 349). What can or cannot be monitored is another
issue currently in our courts.
Ethical Theories and Employee Monitoring
While considering employee monitoring, it is important to relate it to ethical theories for clear understanding
of the ethics and ethical dilemmas which employers and employees face. Here, two issues exist: The issues
are the ethics of employer monitoring and the ethics of certain employee behavior. Utilitarian theory of ethics,
which is consequence based, would suggest that employers take the course of action that produces the greatest
good for the greatest number of relevant stakeholders. An employee's choice to act ethically or unethically
is strongly connected to Kant's theory of Categorical Imperative. This theory is the notion that every
person should act on only those principles that she or he, as a rational person, would prescribe as universal
laws to be applied to the whole of mankind. Kant's theory or moral rule is independent of its outcome. It
stands on the principles themselves. An employee who follows his/her company's policies because it is the
right thing to do falls into Kant's theory. Here, the theory is measured by the "rightness" of rules, rather
than by consequences of them (Mujtaba, 1997).
As we saw in the case of Roe versus Wade, even in society there are differences in ethical values, as there
are in the workplace and in our personal lives. These values govern our behavior and are a large part of how
we see others and ourselves. Our beliefs can separate us or bring us closer together, depending on how they
align with or against the ethical values of others. These values are so deeply held by and ingrained in us
that to attempt to change them would be difficult, if not impossible, in most instances. Persons that change
a belief that they have held through their lifetime do so, not because they are coerced or opposed, but because
through their own thought processes, and sometimes their heart, they determine that their values must change.
People can be told by law, policy and other formal methods how they must act, as was the case in Roe versus
Wade, and many will comply, but they will not change their deeply held values because they are told by law
that one value has priority over another.
Ethical decision-making must always include respect for the basic rights of individuals and consideration
for differences in culturally inherited and individually held moral standards. When a decision comes into
conflict with individual or societal ethics, there must be an understanding of the conflicts and a compassionate
assessment of the impacts the decision will have on other's principles. In a case where there are ethics
that are contrary to one another, such as the Roe versus Wade example, the two sides must be weighted and a
decision made as to which has priority.
Immanuel Kant, the eighteenth century philosopher, maintained that each of us has a worth or a dignity that
must be respected. As quoted from the interpretations of his works by Thomas Kingsmill Abbott, which states
that humanity's morality has dignity. Abbott stated, "…from the idea of the dignity of a rational
being, obeying no law but that which he himself also gives… In the kingdom of ends everything has
either value or dignity. Now morality is the condition under which alone a rational being can be an end in
himself, since by this alone is it possible that he should be a legislating member in the kingdom of ends.
Thus morality, and humanity as capable of it, is that which alone has dignity." This worth and dignity
includes our differences in ethical standards. By taking into consideration everyone's ethical and moral
standards, including our own, in decision-making we are valuing these differences and in doing so come to
conclusions that are unbiased, fairly based and as true to others as possible.
Kant believed that an action that was right for one person was then right for every person. This thinking
was based on the assumption that people were "rational" thinkers and would evaluate and surmise a system of
rules or principles. This theory falls under the deontological category. Deontological theories "determine
the ethics of an act by looking to the process of the decision (the means)" (Hartman, 2001). Through critical
thinking, employees decide upon an action based on their own belief systems or understanding of their belief
systems. However, to determine whether an action is clearly right or wrong is not always easy for many
individuals due to the complexity of the issues involved; therefore, clearly documented and communicated
policies/laws act as the guiding force.
Lawrence Kohlberg, an American psychologist, has devised a theoretical framework that describes development
in moral reasoning. Kohlberg's theory consists of six stages of moral reasoning. The stages are sequential
and invariable in their order.
- Stage 1- In society, nothing is wrong if you can get away with it and avoid punishment
- Stage 2 - There is an awareness that others have needs
- Stage 3 - Good behavior is used to gain approval from others
- Stage 4 - Basis for approved behavior is for the common good
- Stage 5 - Obeying laws but still protecting peoples rights
- Stage 6 - Appeals to universal ethical principles in conflict and resolution
These six stages can offer guidelines for all individuals to make decisions that are in stage four or above.
In the case of employee monitoring applied to stage 4, one would believe that such monitoring by the employer
would lead to information for the common good. It is at Stage 5 that the courts may determine that the privacy
rights of employees are violated if the employers go too far without the employees' awareness that they are
being monitored. In stage six, one would make a decision that appeals to the universal ethical principles
of doing what is right.
Ethics "involves honest consideration to underlying motive, to possible potential harm, and to congruency
with established values and rules" (Mujtaba, 1997). With this said, one could reason that employees use of
voice-mail or e-mail for private use is unethical. Could the employee be putting other people or the company
in danger? Is the employee being unproductive or misusing company time as well? Does the company forbid it?
Is the employee's activity more of a broken law? The answer to this last question would depend on the content
of the call, e-mail, phone call or voice-mail. Is the employer engaging in employee monitoring to protect
the good of the company? A graduate student in Tampa, who was a middle manager for his firm in that city,
was terminated because monitoring devices had shown that he had used the company's computer and printer for
school projects more than once. He had been with the firm for over three years and their policy stated that
using the company's products for personal use was strictly prohibited. The irony was that he was being reimbursed
for one hundred percent of his tuition at a private institution. So, it appears they were complying with the
letter of their laws rather than its intention (possibly to make an example to other employees).
Employee monitoring can be viewed as a type of policing to ensure the good of all and to ensure that misuse
and stealing do not occur. It can be applied loosely to the ethical theory that this type of activity has
the end result in mind. The teleological theory of utilitarianism can support the ethical nature of employee
monitoring in that it "seeks as its end the greatest good (or utility) for the greatest number" (Hartman,
p. 2). Monitoring ensures the company will remain in compliance with the law, avoid possible liabilities,
stop employee stealing of documents, time or resources, and employee monitoring may assist a company in
prospering due to increased productivity. "Unethical acts and the related discipline of them can consume
enormous amounts or organizational human and financial resources (e.g. lawsuits, effects of employee morale,
compromise of corporate information) and may lead to unfavorable public images of the organization" (Pierce
and Henry, 2000).
If someone is being harmed, threatened, or quality of life is adversely affected, this may not be an unethical
act. Employers need to ensure that a hostile work environment is not occurring due to inappropriate e-mail,
voice-mail, or Internet activities. With this said, monitoring is ethical within reason. Employees need to
behave professionally and ethically in the work place. Monitoring should only be done as a check and balance
measure to ensure high ethical standards. Respect to employee's privacy, within reason, needs to be a consideration.
The ethics of the invasion of an employee's privacy is very controversial. If an employee is doing nothing
unethical or illegal, is it fair to be monitored at all times? In defense of monitoring, an employer could
state that it is conducting monitoring to ensure all employees' behavior resembles this good employee's behavior.
Employers could also state that it would be unethical and unfair to allow wrongdoing when good employees,
such as in this example, are working hard and behaving ethically. Is everyone carrying the workload fairly
or to the best of his or her abilities?
Employee Monitoring Status, Recommendations and Future
Many organizations lack a clear vision of how to deal with cyberloafing and Internet abuse (Mirchandani &
Motwani, 2003); however, some firms like Lockheed Martin and Zerox Corporation are strictly implementing
Internet policies with such measures as terminating employees who violate them. The deterrence theory
(borrowed from criminology) suggest that sanctions and disincentive measures may very well reduce cyberloafing
and other forms of Internet abuse when potential abusers are fully aware that their unethical behavior will
lead to their employment termination (Mirchandani & Motwani, 2003). According to this general theory,
firms can use deterrence, prevention, detection, and remedies to reduce system related risks in their firms.
Monitoring devises can incorporate all of these strategies to reduce and eliminate cyberloafing. Most firms
have the means to track the Internet usage of their employees but choose not to do so because of the amount
of effort and work involved.
Employee monitoring is a necessity in many industries for many firms due to different reasons and variables
if they are to remain competitive in today's competitive global world of business. The future of employee
monitoring is still a bit unclear due to pending legislature and emerging issues and ethical considerations.
However, current, surveys show a need for some form of monitoring to ensure proper employee behavior so the
firm's are not jeopardizing themselves (Raposa & Mujtaba, 2003). For example, the largest vendor of
employee-monitoring software, Websense (San Diego, CA) estimates that American businesses are likely to lose
approximately $63 billion each year due to personal web surfing (loafing or better yet "cyberloafing" on the
job) by their employee while on the job (Schulman, 2002). Schulman states "…There does not appear to have
been an impartial study that attempted to measure the scope of personal web surfing at work, and thereby determine
whether this explanation for workplace surveillance is justified." Could employee-monitoring vendors be
advertising to gain more business? With this said, employee monitoring in itself is a big business that may
have a bigger future. Only time will tell. "How private are employees e-mail messages? This lack of clarity
means that protection of employee e-mail will be at the forefront of legal controversy for at least the rest
of the decade" (Hartman, 2001, p. 404).
In weighing both the advantages and disadvantages of employee monitoring, a few recommendations are appropriate
as a starting place. There are several measures that have been suggested (for employees and employers) that
both prevent and deter losses and the negative implications of employee monitoring. Business leaders can and
should encourage ethical decision-making by having a written code of ethics and providing ethics training,
such as discussions of ethical scenarios, to help employees understand what is expected. In addition, businesses
should consider providing practical support to employees for handling ethical issues when it comes to the use
of company properties such as computers, fax machines, e-mail, etc. Company property, which is essential in
accomplishing job duties, is expensive and may be difficult to replace. When using company property, employees
should exercise care, perform required maintenance, and follow all operating instructions, safety standards,
and guidelines. Prompt reporting of damages, defects, and the need for repairs could prevent deterioration
of equipment and possible injury to employees or others.
Company Computers are to be used for business purposes only. Loading of any programs or the downloading of
any data onto company computers without company consent should be prohibited. All data stored on company
computers or servers are the property of that organization. The transfer of any data from company servers
or computers without a legitimate business purpose should also be prohibited.
Electronic Mail systems are primarily for official business. Most companies have a policy that non-business
messages may be sent to specific individuals, but with limited business time spent on messages that do not
have a business purpose. Employees should keep in mind that e-mail is not private or confidential. Any message
sent can be forwarded and any email including those deleted can be retrieved. When using the e-mail system
at work, it should be kept in mind that company property is being used; as a result, comments must be appropriate
to a business setting. Special care should be taken to avoid jokes or comments that would be inconsistent with
company policies prohibiting discrimination and harassment.
When access to the Internet is provided for company business, non-business use of the Internet may or may not
be authorized (as per employer's decision). An employee should limit the time spent on non-business related
web pages. Internet traffic can be and usually is monitored. Employees should avoid web sites that may contain
information that would not be appropriate for a business setting and viewing pornographic and other offensive
material are normally not tolerated and are usually grounds for immediate dismissal.
Employers need to develop a specific Business Code of Conduct for their firm if one does not exist. According
to a survey (Hartman, 2001), about 60% of respondents reported that their companies had a code of conduct.
Having a code of ethics and providing clarity of what it means should be a priority for all companies. All
employees should have official reviews of the policies and Codes. If employee monitoring is being conducted
and if a code of conduct exists, employers should notify employees at the outset (as well when it is being
updated) and educate them on the code of conduct. In the United Kingdom, companies are required to tell their
employees that they monitor them (McGrigor, 2002). Clear guidelines on the use of telephone calls, e-mail,
and voice-mail should be in place. Many employers have specific rules in place asking everyone not to forward
or accept junk mail that comes to them. There are literally hundreds of junk e-mails going around the Internet
each day that could be a huge waste of time for employees to read. According to Hartman, "Employees need to
be made aware that their company-provided e-mail access is company property and not a personal perk. They
should know that electronic communications can be monitored and electronic documents retrieved, and that
abuse of these resources may bring penalties." Hartman adds, "…Abuse of this ability (to monitor)
will create an atmosphere of mistrust and hostility" (p. 403).
The idea of having ethics officers or ombudsman should be researched for feasibility. In the Ethics Resource
Center survey, 33% of the respondents reported that their companies had an ethics office or ethics ombudsman.
Employees should also take responsibility and accountability for their actions. As the Internet becomes more
widely known and used, people need to understand that unless you know the "rules of the road", your on-line
activity may lead to significant privacy problems (Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, 2002). Many websites and
literature are available on privacy issues and our government laws. Another recommendation would be for employees
to be careful of their e-mail activities: "Before you post a message to a public forum, ask yourself if you
want an employer or family member to be able to read your posting in years to come" (Privacy Rights Clearinghouse,
2002). In other words, it is recommended that employees conduct themselves professionally and ethically to
avoid any embarrassment or potential discipline. In a perfect world, if employees behaved ethically and
employers fully trusted employees, there would be no need for employee monitoring. As with most ethical
issues, the governing concern should be mutual respect and mutual accountability.
To ensure high ethical employee behavior, every level of management and non-management employees must fully
understand the ethical implications of their decisions as it relates to their personal and professional values.
Corporations need to implement a Business Code of Ethics and review with all employees. Also, an excellent
tool for learning is case studies and role-playing. The key in this learning is to make the Code accessible
and position it as a helpful tool for all employees. It is also recommended that all business managers display
the Code on their desks in a healthy manner. Real world learning and the negative end results of unethical
behavior or actions should be showcased to support this venture.
Ethical behaviors are vital to a corporation's overall success. The stakeholders are able to take direction
from a well-written and detailed Business Code of Conduct. In an ethical dilemma for decision-making, a code
is the employee's most essential tool. If a corporation chooses to engage in employee monitoring, this practice
needs to be posted or announced to all employees. Employees need to understand the laws and the corporation's
policies and Business Code of Conduct. At the same time, as suggested by many authors, organizations need to
exercise restraint in looking over their employee's electronic shoulders (Hartman, 2001, p. 403). If everyone
understands the ground rules and the playing field then our work environment will be fairer. In closing,
if an employee is being ethical and following the corporation's policies, s/he should not be concerned with
monitoring. To balance this statement, employers need to be respectful, open and honest in advising employees
of its monitoring, and businesses should conduct their monitoring within the guidelines of the law.
Abbott, Thomas, Kingsmill. 1785 Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals by Immanuel Kant.
Retrieved on April 02, 2002 from http://eserver.org/philosophy/kant/metaphys-of-morals.txt.
ACLU Montana. Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973). Retrieved
on March 30th of 2002 from http://www.aclumontana.org/rights/roe.html.
AFL/CIO web site, Profiles on Workers Rights. Retrieved September 23, 2002 from the World Wide Web:
AFL/CIO web site. Retrieved September 23, 2002 from the World Wide Web: http://www.aflcio.org/rightsinamerica/report.pdf.
American Management Association web site. Retrieved September 24, 2002 from the World Wide Web: http://www.amanet.org/research/index.htm.
Biggs, M. (2000, October). In implementing emerging technology, we may face thorny ethical problems. InfoWorld, 22 (42), p. 106-107.
Retrieved July 25, 2002, from the World Wide Web: http://ehostweb9.epnet.com/delivery.asp?.
Brice, T., and Waung, M., (2002). Web Site Recruitment Characteristics: America's Versus America's Biggest. SAM Advanced Management Journal. Volume 67. Number 2. Spring.
Capital One Ethics Policy Brochure. Reviewed by an employee and author on July 08, 2002
Cronan, T.P., & Kreie, J. (2000). Making ethical decisions. Association for Computing Machinery. Communications of the ACM, 43 (12), 66-71.
Retrieved May 26, 2002 from the World Wide Web: http://firstname.lastname@example.org
Barlow, J. (1997). Internet access providers should not censor content, Retrieved March 10, 2003 from http://galenet.galegroup.com/servket/OVRC
Business Insurance. (2002) Revise Medical Privacy Rules. Bol. 36, Issue 13, p.8. Retrieved June 26, 2002 from EBSCOhost website.
Carey, M. (2002). CQ Weekly: New Medical Privacy Rules Blasted as Telemarketers Dream. Vol. 60, Issue 16, p. 1004. Retrieved June 26, 2002 from EBSCOhost website.
CCH Business Owners Toolkit web site. Retrieved September 23, 2002 from the World Wide Web: http://www.hrtools.com/HREssentials/P05_7310.asp
Clark, C. (1995, June 30). "Can the use of cyberspace be governed?" The CQ Researcher [Online], p. 14-15. Available at http://www.apollolibrary.com.2298/cqresearcher.document.php?id=cqresrre19950630&typ
Company Computers and Employees. Retrieved March 30, 2003 from http://www.seernnadivad.org/computers_and_employees.htm
Cotton, C. 2002. Electronic Mail In The Workplace: Employer Monitoring Vs. Employee
Employee Monitoring Systems. 2002.Retrieved September 23, 2002 From the World Wide Web: Privacy. Gray Cary, Technology's Legal Edge. Retrieved September 23, 2002 from the World Wide Web: http://www.gcwf.com/articles/interest/interest_40.html
Elder, L. (1999). Critical thinking: Teaching the foundations of ethical reasoning. Journal of Developmental Education, 22, (3). Retrieved May 30, 2002 from the World Wide Web: http://ehostweb9.epnet.com/delivery.asp?
Eko, L. (2001).Many spiders, one worldwide web: Towards a typology of Internet regulation, Retrieved March 10, 2003, http://www.employee-monitoring.com/solutions.htm
Fusco, P. (1999) McCain seeks to build regulation-free Internet. Internetnews.com, Retrieved March 10, 2003, from http://www.internetnews.com/xSP/print.php/8_117931
Gahtan, A. 2002. Monitoring Employee Communications. The Cyberlaw Encyclopedia. Retrieved September 23, 2002 from the World Wide Web: http://www.gahtan.com/alan/articles/monitor.htm
Gose, B. (2002) Chronical of Higher Education: Supreme Court Weighs Whether Students can Sue Under Privacy Law. Vol. 48, Issue 34. Retrieved June 26, 2002 from EBSCOhost website.
Hartman, L. (2001). Perspectives In Business Ethics. Chicago: Irwin/McGraw-Hill.
Henry, J. & Pierce, A. (2000, December). Judgments about computer ethics: Do individual, co-worker, and company judgments differ? Do company codes make a difference? Journal of Business Ethics, 28 (4), 307-322. Retrieved June 24, 2002 from the University of Phoenix Apollo Library Web Site: http://www.mapnp.org/library/ethics/ethxgde.htm
Hindman, E. (1999). Divergence of duty: Differences in legal and ethical responsibilities. Journal of Mass Media Ethics, 14 (4), p. 213-231. Retrieved June 24, 2002 from the University of Phoenix Apollo Library Web Site: http://www.mapnp.org/library/ethics/ethxgde.htm
Kreie, J. & Cronan, T. P. (2000, December). Making ethical decisions. Association for Computing Machinery. Communications of the ACM; 43(12), 66-71.
Internet regulations: Will it hinder or help small business? (1999) BusinessnessWeek.com, Retrieved March 10, 2003, from http://www.Businessweek.com/smallbiz/news/date/9905/f990506.htm?scriptFramed
Lee, Karen. (2002). Employee Benefit News: In the Soup. Vol. 16, Issue 6, p.41. Retrieved June 26, 2002 from EBSCOhost website.
Lim, E. G. Vivien, (2002). The IT way of loafing on the job: cyberloafing, neutralizing and organizational justice. Journal of Organizational Behavior. 23, 675-694. Wiley InterScience (www.interscience.wiley.com). Received: 26 February 2001; Revised: 30 April 2002; Accepted: 2 May 2002
Liao-Troth, M., and Griffith, L (2002). Software, shareware and freeware: multiplex commitment to an electronic social exchange systym. Western Washington University and Santa Clara University. Copyright # 2002 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
McGrigor-Donald web site, Retrieved September 23, 2002 from the World Wide Web: http://www.mcgrigors.com/news/press_releases/pr_02-09-02.html
Metz, C. and Selzer, L. (2003) Slam the spam. PC Magazine 22(3), p74. Retrieved March 10, 2003, from EBSCO Host database.
Mirchandani, D., & Motwani, J., (2003). Reducing Internet Abuse in the Workplace. SAM Advance Management Journal. Volume 68. Number 1. Winter.
Mujtaba, B. G. (1998). Marketing Ethics. Published at the proceedings of Australia New Zealand Marketing Academy Conference (ANZMAC98). Conference was held in New Zealand.
Mujtaba, B. G. (1997). "Corporate Ethics Training Programs" Published in the Journal of Developments in Business Simulation and Experiential Learning. Published yearly by Association for Business Simulation and Experiential Learning (ABSEL).
Pierce, M., and Henry, J. (2000). Judgments About Computer Ethics: Do Individual, Co-Worker, and Company Judgments Differ? Journal of Business Ethics, 28. (4), 307-322.
Privacy Rights Clearing House web site, Retrieved September 23, 2002 from the World Wide Web: http://www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs7-work.htm
Raposa, P., and Mujtaba, B. (2003). The Ethics of Employee Monitoring: What You Need to Know. Presented at SAM's "Business, Trust and Responsibility" conference in Orlando of Florida. Published in Society for Advancement of Management (SAM's) 2003 Proceedings. April 11-13, 2003.
Roleff, T. (1999) Censoring indecent material on the Internet violates free speech. Retrieved March 10, 2003, http://www.galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/OVRC
Schulman, A. 2002. Software Litigation Consultant web site. Retrieved September 23, 2002 from the World Wide Web: http://www.sonic.net/~undoc/extent.htm#Surveillance%20vs.%20Spot
Schulman, A. 2002, Privacy Foundation web site, Retrieved. September 23, 2002 from the World Wide Web: http://www.undoc.com/onworsurproj.html
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. June 2002. Distributive Justice. Retrieved March 10, 2003 from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/justice-distributive/
Sterling, B. (1993). Short history of the Internet. Retrieved March 10, 2003, http://w3.aces.uiuc.edu/AIM/sclae/nethistory.html
The Orlando Sentinel, (1999). A costly pleasure: Net surfing is riding high at work and employees are waxing up their keyboards and checking out their personal interest at company expenses. May 19th.
The Straits Times, (2000a). Cyberslackers at work. April 28th.
The Straits Times, (2000b). Surfing abuse costing universities big money. March 28th.
Through a glass darkly. (2003) The Economist, 366(8308), p. 2. Retrieved March 10, 2003, from EBSCO Host Database.
Walsh, M. (2002). Education Week: Court Mulls Who Can Sue Under Privacy Law. Vol. 21, Issue 33, p. 22. Retrieved June 26, 2002 from EBSCOhost website.
About the Author
Bahaudin Mujtaba (D.B.A. with International and Human Resource Management specialties) is Assistant Professor
of human resources and international management. He is also serving as the Director of Institutional Relations,
Planning, and Accreditation for Nova Southeastern University at the H. Wayne Huizenga School of Business and
Entrepreneurship in Fort Lauder, Florida. Bahaudin has worked as an internal consultant, trainer, and teacher
at Training Development Departments of Human Resources as well as retail management in the corporate arena
for 16 years. In his capacity as a consultant and trainer, Bahaudin has worked with various firms in the
areas of management, cross-cultural communication, customer value/service, and diversity management. Academically,
Bahaudin has been teaching graduate business courses both nationally and internationally since 1996. Bahaudin's
undergraduate degree is from University of Central Florida. His MBA and DBA degrees are from Nova Southeastern
During the 1990s, Mujtaba had the pleasure of teaching courses in the USA, Brazil, Bahamas, and Jamaica. He
was born in Logar and raised in Kabul of Afghanistan. Bahaudin and his family moved to the United States of
America when he was a teenager. This has provided him many insights in culture, leadership, and management
from the perspectives of different firms, cultures, and countries.